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Nova Scotians weigh in on Coastal Protection Act

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The Nova Scotia government says its Coastal Protection Act contains the tools to adapt to the impacts of climate change and erosion, and now residents’ official comments on the plan are available for the first time.

The more than 250 comments were official submissions made during the summer and fall 2021 public consultation period. While the Coastal Protection Act was passed in 2019, it will not take effect until the accompanying regulations are fully developed and approved. At that time, a new coastal protection zone will extend around the coast of Nova Scotia and new requirements will apply to constructing houses and other structures in the zone.

The legislation aims to protect the province’s some 13,000 kilometres of coastline that is vulnerable to climate change, a threat that has already damaged homes and businesses due to coastal flooding and erosion.

“The property and casualty insurance industry has observed an alarming increase in damage from severe weather over the last decade through increasing claims amounts. Coastal properties have become especially vulnerable to damage,” noted Amanda Dean, VP of the Insurance Bureau of Canada’s Atlantic region.

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The comments included 206 submissions from individual members of the general public, 15 from municipalities, and 10 from organizations representing various interest groups.

In its conclusion about the public consultation, the government noted that the feedback “has reinforced the need to keep additional regulatory and administrative burden on landowners and municipalities to the minimum possible level.”

Throughout the comments received, perhaps the most notable element was  that some respondents see the proposed regulations as placing too many restrictions on development along the coast, while others view the regulations as not restrictive enough to protect against sea level rise projections and the increasing frequency and intensity of weather events.

“Members of the general public who responded, in particular, felt that there were too many exemptions proposed and full exemptions should be limited wherever possible,” states the public submissions report.

In fact, 77% of the comments indicated that the restrictions proposed around coastline development were not strict enough.

The report clarifies that the proposed regulations are intended to ensure construction is located at a safer height and distance from coastal shorelines, and are “not intended to stop responsible development along the coastline.” That means there will be a minimum height above mean sea level for new construction, as well as a horizontal setback designed to avoid future erosion risks.

“We are currently developing a schedule of minimum building elevations that will incorporate the latest relative sea level rise projections released by Natural Resources Canada in early 2021 and a more generalized additional margin of safety for storm surge,” the proposed regulations state.

The legislation and regulations would not impact existing coastal homes and buildings, unless the owner intends to expand or rebuild.

“While the decision to restrict the use of vulnerable coastal properties may be difficult, protecting Nova Scotia’s coastline is the right thing to do, both for our financial well-being and for the environment,” added Dean.

The general public respondents and sector organizations often noted in submissions that the regulations should be expanded, and a broader range of structures and activities should face development restrictions.

The regulations propose the creation of a Coastal Protection Zone to ensure no construction unnecessarily interferes with the dynamic nature of the coast and sensitive coastal ecosystems. The narrow band would surround the entire coast, including land and water-covered areas on either side of the high-water mark. Of those that commented on the width of the zone, 79% thought the proposed 80–100 metres were adequate.

The province consulted with the Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia under a separate Terms of Reference process. This process is ongoing.

The provincial government also passed the Environmental Goals and Climate Change Reduction Act in fall 2021. The climate plan will be launched this spring.

The next steps for Nova Scotia’s Coastal Protection Act include refining the proposed content of the regulations and drafting the actual text that will form the regulations.

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