Dear council and HRM staff,
Today I write to you in regards to the facilitator's report and the overall progression of the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Area. Overall, I am extremely disappointed with the lack of leadership from council on this file. We truly have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get this right and create a legacy for generations to come.
To my knowledge, the promise of this park has existed in some form since the 1970s under the old City of Halifax. Subsequently, via the acceptance of the Regional Plan in 2006, and the renewal of RP+5 in 2014; council has made the policy intent clear—that the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Area (BMBCWA) will be a reality in the not too foreseeable future. Council must do as it has committed to and either purchase the land from the developers or facilitate a land swap.
While it may be comprehensive, the report, in my opinion, airs on the side of caution and attempts to swing the pendulum much too far in favour of development. With the regional plan, we are attempting to provide a blueprint for how our region will grow for at least the next 25 years. That is quite welcome as a blueprint to guide development in our region. One of the key premises of the RP+5 is to direct development in already serviced areas. This is to help reduce costs to the municipality, residents and to significantly reduce our environmental impact. As we are in an unprecedented activity of development in our region, it is important that we not deviate from RP+5.
While the developers are quite free to make proposals to the city for the land within BMBCWA, it would fly in the face of reason for council to permit any development in the park boundaries—regardless of what mechanism is utilized.
Why is it important that HRM follow through on its commitment to establish BMBCWA?
First, it is important that council honour its commitment to establish this park to help facilitate trust between residents and our local government. Regional council has twice, on record in 2006 and 2014, stated that this park would happen. To back away from this council commitment would further undermine residents’ faith in our civic government.
Secondly, we are at a time in our species’ history that we have a better understanding of our impact on the world we share with other species. With the information available to us, we are in a position to make the correct choice and ensure that we live in balance with the natural world—not against. Considering our current situation with climate change, we need to maintain all the green space that is possible. It is important to maintain and encourage green space because it provides habitat for indigenous species and assists with carbon sequestration. Furthermore, establishing this park would allow the creation of a natural corridor as there would be links created between BMBCWA and other adjacent trails/wilderness areas. Lastly, this park would enable the protection of several bodies of water in this area of HRM. The lake/wetland system in BMBCWA provides a service of water filtration and catchment; which will be invaluable as our weather patterns change and we continue to experience extreme weather events in our region. Disrupting ecosystems must be avoided at all costs, and the shear impact from development construction would forever damage the local ecosystem. It would result in displaced flora and fauna, and in 2016 that is an unacceptable outcome.
Finally, the benefit the creation of BMBCWA will provide to residents and visitors to our city is invaluable. Due to the park’s unique location, it will provide more residents with access to a wilderness experience that may not otherwise be able to have. Blue Mountain-Birch Cove will provide the unique wilderness experience to our residents that so many other cities are lucky to have. Being able to connect with our natural world is important, and studies have clearly documented a correlation between access to wild green space that results in reduced stress levels and helps promote better overall health. Also, the creation of this park will help improve social determinants of health for all residents by facilitating stronger sense of belonging and community cohesion to name a few.
In conclusion, I urge council to ignore the recommendations in the facilitator’s report regarding BMBCWA and to direct staff to commence a process to purchase the land or provide a land swap with the developers.