Whale Sanctuary Project officially recognized in St. Mary’s strategic plan

·3 min read

ST. MARY’S – The Whale Sanctuary Project (WSP) received standing as an “ongoing initiative” in the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s first planning strategy in 16 years.

“This recognizes that project and identifies it as an initiative going on in the municipality, and establishes a specific zone for the properties where it is proposed,” Ian Watson, a senior planner with Upland Planning and Design Studio of Dartmouth, said during a presentation to council last week, adding: “There’s also policy guidance in the plan to come back … and review that zoning … in five years, if the project hasn’t gone ahead.”

St. Mary’s council hired Upland earlier this year to complete the research and public consultations required to draft the district’s new municipal planning strategy and land-use bylaw (MPS/LUB), its first since 2006. Watson appeared before council’s committee of the whole meeting on June 22 to deliver the highlights.

“That [Whale Sanctuary Project] zone has the range of uses that you would want for something like that: veterinary care, museum-related uses, marine-related industry; all those kinds of things that [it] would need,” he said. [If it doesn’t proceed], you as a council can take a vote to other uses for that land.”

Business, agriculture and the environment figured prominently in a raft of new measures designed to update and formalize land-use planning and regulations in the municipality — from the proportion of residences permitted to function as private enterprises (25 per cent), to the number of rabbits people can keep at any one time (15).

“From an environment point of view, there’s a parks and recreation zone and that’s applied to the wilderness areas and the provincial parks,” Watson reported. “One of the key topics that’s come up a lot lately is coastal development with worries about sea level rises and erosion. Municipalities have been putting rules in for that kind of thing. Finally, the province has stepped into this intending to take a kind of coordinated approach to this with the Coastal Protection Act. We expect regulations for that to come into effect, hopefully, next year; they're now saying 2023. The point is they’re on the horizon.”

According to the draft MPS/LUB, St. Mary’s envisions its “shared future” and “a vibrant place that offers lifelong opportunities to live, work and play, thriving businesses and plentiful employment opportunities, rural living with plentiful amenities to meet everyone’s needs, beautiful place that cares for and takes pride in its natural setting, and welcoming and supporting neighbours that take care of one another.”

In 2020, the California-based WSP selected Port Hilford as the site of the world’s first wild refuge for captive belugas and orcas, citing local support as one of the determining factors. Earlier this month, the organization — which has secured roughly 110 acres for its coastal and underwater facilities — stated the project remains on track despite challenges.

“Nobody could have foreseen the effects of COVID and the lockdown of government offices and businesses across Canada, along with travel restrictions between the United States and Canada that have only recently been lifted … [but] our goal is to welcome the first whales to the sanctuary by the end of 2023,” it said in its summer 2022 newsletter.

Following last week’s reading of the MPS/LUB, council will consider any changes it wants to make before sending the document to a public hearing, expected before the end of July.

Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal

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