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Environment Department finds hundreds of Coastal Protection Act submissions in junk mail

Wind and rain from post-tropical storm Fiona hits the shoreline of the Bras d'Or Lake in Irish Cove, N.S. on Sept. 24, 2022. The widespread damage, which particularly affected coastal communities, was cited in hundreds of public submissions about the Coastal Protection Act. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images - image credit)
Wind and rain from post-tropical storm Fiona hits the shoreline of the Bras d'Or Lake in Irish Cove, N.S. on Sept. 24, 2022. The widespread damage, which particularly affected coastal communities, was cited in hundreds of public submissions about the Coastal Protection Act. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images - image credit)

While Environment Minister Tim Halman refuses to release the results of the latest round of public consultation on the Coastal Protection Act, new documents show an even larger number of people calling on him to proclaim the legislation than previously reported.

In September, CBC News reported on records received through the access to information process that showed public correspondence on the long-delayed legislation, which was passed with all-party support in 2019 but was never proclaimed.

Despite several commitments from Halman to proclaim the act since becoming minister in 2021, he's subsequently abandoned that commitment with no suggestion of when — if ever — his government might take action on the bill, which was intended to outline where along the coast is safe for people to build and to add extra protection to coastal features such as sand dunes.

The majority of the 178 responses provided to CBC under access to information laws supported the act and the Tories getting on with proclamation. It turns out, however, that that was just a fraction of the feedback Halman's department had actually received.

The week that story was published, a senior official from the Environment Department contacted CBC to say additional records that should have been disclosed had subsequently been discovered in junk email folders. The official said the documents would be quickly processed and released.

CBC received the additional 672 pages in January. Days after that, the department called again to say several hundred  more records were discovered and those were subsequently released.

In total, CBC received an additional 900 pages of records, which amounted to 863 submissions to Halman and his department, that were left out of the initial access to information request package.

Vast majority of respondents want legislation proclaimed

All of the responses except two specifically call on the minister to proclaim the legislation. One response was from a land owner asking for an update on plans for the act because the potential of its proclamation is affecting their ability to sell, while the other was from a subject matter expert offering their help to the minister.

Tim Halman is Nova Scotia's environment minister.
Tim Halman is Nova Scotia's environment minister.

Environment Minister Tim Halman has said he will not release details about the lastest round of public consultation until his government is ready to release its plan for protecting the coastline. (Robert Short/CBC)

The vast majority of the responses were variations of a form letter that raised issues such as climate change, Halman's previous promises to proclaim the act and concerns about development people were witnessing along the coastline in the absence of legislation.

"From my window I can see a handful of new houses that were built this year or last year, some of which are still under construction," a writer from the South Shore said to Halman.

"Each of these building sites first stripped all trees and other vegetation to the water's edge before starting construction, most have also built seawalls, effectively eliminating the natural shoreline."

Many people noted the damage created to coastal communities when post-tropical storm Fiona bashed into the province in September 2022.

"Your backsliding is unacceptable and puts our communities and our families in very real danger," one person wrote.

Trucks were dumping loads of gravel into a tidal marshland behind the seawall on Friday morning.
Trucks were dumping loads of gravel into a tidal marshland behind the seawall on Friday morning.

The Coastal Protection Act is intended to outline where and how it is safe for people to build along Nova Scotia's coastline. (Peter Barss)

Others echoed the calls of some municipal officials for a moratorium on coastal development until the provincial government can settle on some type of policy.

One submission noted the changes they've observed along the coast over 40 years and how those changes seem to happen regardless of the steps people take.

"My family has spent money armouring the bank against the ocean only to realize that you can't really stop the rising tides and that armouring only increases erosion on the properties around us," the person wrote.

"My parents recently put in a new septic system that goes right to the edge of their oceanfront property. I can't imagine that it won't be affected by storms and erosion in the future. The Coastal Protection Act would have supported people in the same situation as my parents to make a different decision and put their time and resources into a more lasting project."

No details on consultants' fees

Last summer, Halman announced plans for a third round of public consultation on the act, this time focused specifically on coastal property owners. Group ATN Consulting had a budget of up to almost $100,000 for the work and delivered its report to Halman last month.

On Thursday, an Environment Department spokesperson would not say how much the government has paid Group ATN. Elizabeth MacDonald said the contract "is still open," and that the firm continues to work with the department.

"Government will share next steps directly with Nova Scotians — including media — when the work is complete," she said in an email.

Last month, Halman told reporters that he would not release the results of the most recent consultation until his government decides what its next move would be.

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