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'We're losing the coastline': Residents question private wall built at well-loved N.S. beach

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The 1.6 kilometre-long stretch of white sand at Crescent Beach in Nova Scotia’s Lunenburg County is a popular beach destination in the province.

At its far end, there’s a smaller portion of the beach known as “Little Crescent” that’s popular with locals for its secluded distance from the main attraction, and its often warmer ocean waters.

The rock wall built at Little Crescent Beach is pictured. (Heidi Petracek/CTV Atlantic)But now, its landscape has changed – a large rock wall has been erected at Little Crescent, and some residents aren’t happy.

“There’s a lot of people who are very concerned about the ecological impacts,” says Lucy Hendrixson.

Those concerns, she says, are not only about the beach, but also about the fish habitat in the bay and in a large tidal wetland just behind the construction site.

“And so, there’s some concerns about the development impacting that and just sort of encroaching on that,” she adds.

The land is privately owned by well-known Halifax developer Hossein Mousavi, who was granted a municipal building permit in March to construct three family cottages in the area.

But in order to build the large retaining rock wall, a permit was required from the province’s Department of Natural Resources and Renewables to allow vehicles to access the beach for construction.

The department confirms that was approved.

However, residents now believe the wall encroaches on the beach’s high-water mark, which means it would infringe on Crown land.

But in an email statement to CTV News, Mousavi says the wall, which was built to replace existing sea walls that had been badly damaged, follows the rules.

“Our licensed surveyor identified the OHWM [ordinary high-water mark] and proposed siting the new wall on top of the pre-existing walls and, in some cases, set stones back one or two feet above the OHWM,” writes Mousavi in part.

He says the wall was part of his submission to the municipality to build two family cottages, one on each of his two shoreline properties.

Mousavi continues, “We love and want to protect the sensitive wetlands that wind through our properties…we sited our cottages and infrastructure closer to the beach sides of our properties. That’s why our construction plans include a sea wall and measures to avoid disturbing the wetlands entirely.”

Local photographer Peter Barss can see Crescent Beach from his house, and took his camera on Sunday to Little Crescent an hour after high tide.

His images show the ocean surf hitting the stone wall.

“I think it’s too bad that the law allows this kind of development, but it does,” says Barss.

He was among the many Nova Scotians who fought a public battle to protect Owls Head from development, a movement which resulted in the designation of 266 hectares in Little Harbour, N.S., as a provincial park last year.

“I just think it’s tragic that politicians and citizens didn’t see this kind of thing coming,” he says. “More and more coast areas are being closed off by people who claim the land to be theirs and theirs alone.”

“’No trespassing’ signs, boulders,” he adds. “We’re losing the coastline.”

Barss and Hendrixson are now part of a growing group of locals who are joining together to try to see what can be done.

They say it’s not just about the one particular development, but about similar situations occurring throughout the province.

“I think that this is a call to the residents of Nova Scotia, to the District of the Municipality of Lunenburg, that we really need to do something, we need land bylaws and we need zoning so that continuing to develop the coastline doesn’t happen,” Hendrixson says.

She points to the previous Liberal government’s Coastal Protection Act, which was passed in the legislature in 2019, but never enacted into law.

The act is intended to set provincewide rules for what’s allowed along coastlines, including limits on how close construction can be to the shore.

Back in 2019, an environment department official said about 60,000 properties already touch saltwater in the province.

Climate change experts have said coastal damage from intense weather systems, such as post-tropical storm Fiona, are a new reality for the east coast.

More reason, says Hendrixson, why the new regulations need to be put in place.

“We all have to work together to protect the coastline,” she says. “Because that land that’s being developed behind us, it was all coastal grasslands, it was vegetation, it was where nature lived.”

Late Wednesday afternoon, the mayor of the municipality released a statement on the issue at Little Crescent, stating the district is “deeply concerned.”

“Council is calling upon Province of Nova Scotia to immediately implement the Coastal Protection Act regulations,” writes Carolyn Bolivar-Getson.

“The Municipality of the District of Lunenburg echoes the community’s concerns.”

Meanwhile, the minister of natural resources and renewables says department staff have visited the site several times to inspect the wall, most recently on Tuesday.

At Province House Wednesday, Tory Rushton told CTV News he was waiting to hear back on whether a survey is needed.

“If it does go on to the high-water mark, there certainly have to be conversations taking place,” he said.

“I’ve asked my director to give me the information so I can be prepared to make a decision,” Rushton added.

Nova Scotia’s minister of environment and climate change says his department deals with the site in terms of making sure any work does not disturb the nearby wetland.

“I had inspectors out there on three occasions,” said Timothy Halman. “My staff is telling me there’s no evidence at this juncture of a wetland alteration.”

Hendrixson’s group is hosting a public information meeting Saturday at 3 p.m. at the Petite Riviere Fire Hall for anyone who has questions.

CTV’s attempts to contact the landowner, Hossein Mousavi, have so far been unsuccessful.

A portion of the rock wall built at Little Crescent Beach is pictured. (Heidi Petracek/CTV Atlantic)

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