Nova Scotia set to regulate coastal construction as sea levels rise

HALIFAX – Nova Scotia is proposing legislation that would set rules for coastal construction and protect features such as salt marshes and dunes as sea levels rise in the future.

Environment Minister Margaret Miller says the new Coastal Protection Act will ensure clear provincewide rules for what can and cannot be done along the province’s vulnerable coastlines.

Miller says the legislation is about adapting to the province’s changing climate.

“This is not about having government move existing buildings,” she said.

“It’s not about funding breakwaters or retaining walls. Instead, this legislation deals with future construction – it’s meant to prevent today’s problems from happening to tomorrow’s homes, businesses and cottages.”

Miller said the goal is to ensure that new construction is built in safer places where it’s not at high risk of flooding or coastal erosion.

The Environment Department said accompanying regulations – setting out such things as how close construction will be allowed to the shore – are still another 12 to 18 months from being completed.

Department official John Somers said part of that will be determining the high-water mark for construction.

“There’s a lot of detail to sort out there,” said Somers. “We also know that in the years ahead we will have better information through more complete high resolution mapping so we want to leave flexibility for how we describe that (high water) zone in the future.”

Somers said about 60,000 properties already touch on salt water in the province.

Nancy Anningson of Halifax’s Ecology Action Centre said she likes the fact the legislation will prevent putting people, buildings and homes at risk while protecting coastal ecosystems.

Anningson said it’s a “well-kept secret” that ecosystems actually protect people.

“They buffer storm surge,” she said. “A wetland will slow down the wave energy as it’s coming in. Vegetation on a cliff will slow coastal erosion which is being accelerated by climate change.”

Anningson said the province’s current protection record is a “little bit like the wild west.”

She said there are municipalities that have setbacks that keep people from building close to the shore and there are provincial guidelines that protect wetlands.

“But the system is complicated and there are a lot of cases where someone gets a permit to do something that technically isn’t in the best interest for themselves and the property that they are building and for the coastal shore that they’ll be impacting,” Anningson said.

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