John Brennan's private obsession | Opinion | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

John Brennan's private obsession

A piece of Nova Scotia wilderness is being protected---with "No Trespassing" signs. It's near Poruguese Cove and it's called Avalon Developments.

John Brennan has a solution for saving Nova Scotia's wilderness: privatize it.

Brennan is the mind behind what he's calling the Avalon Private Wilderness Reserve, a 550-acre development on the backlands above Portuguese Cove. The development is a rectangular chunk of land that stretches about five kilometres westward, roughly halfway towards Williamswood on the Old Sambro Road. Undeveloped crown land sits to the north and south.

The area is typical Nova Scotia scrub forest, with interesting granite outcrops that overlook the ocean and several spectacular lakes---Clarks Pond, Third Pond, Crooked Hat Pond. A small stream---it's unnamed on my topographic maps, but Brennan calls it the Avalon River---crosses the property.

Remarkably, there's been no mining or lumber operations in the area. Locals have used the area for hunting and hiking, and a few small fishing cabins have been built on the shores of Third Pond, but otherwise it's been left to the wild.

As Brennan sells it, the Avalon development is a "green lifestyle immersion concept for a small amount of people who become the stewards for 550 acres." The land is divided into 40 lots, at prices ranging from $179,500 to $349,500. Most of the lots front a lake and then reach back into the woods, the idea being that a house will be constructed on the lake, but the rest of the lot is on terrain that can't be built upon. The lots have easements for 20 kilometres of trails that traverse the development, connecting commonly held features like boat ramps and gazebos on ridgetops. Owners will enter into a covenant agreement that protects the natural features and funds the upkeep of trails and such. Hunting and ATVs will be prohibited.

As will trespassing.

Plans call for a substantial granite and iron gate on the road leading into the development, barring entry to all but residents and their guests. The perimeter of the property will be posted with no trespassing signs.

"This is a private, private, private wilderness reserve," Brennan explains. "And it has to be that way, because somebody has to pay for it---and that's the opportunity for people who love nature, who want to live in it. Forty people who value the wilderness now get a chance to buy a finished pristine wilderness product and preserve it."

I have no reason to believe that those who purchase Brennan's "wilderness product" won't be good stewards of the land---plenty of private landowners are.

But the "private wilderness" concept bothers me. For one, I'm of the old school that recognizes an unstated agreement for how people use the outback, which boils down to mutual respect: property owners don't throw up barriers to people wanting to explore their land, but those travelling across it put distance between themselves and private residences, respect "no hunting" signs and make sure not to degrade the land.

To be sure, that unstated agreement has been sorely stressed in recent years, especially with the introduction of ATVs, which can cause huge erosion problems and allow morons to dump garbage and otherwise do stupid things in places they couldn't easily reach before.

Brennan himself explains my bigger problem with privatization: had they not embarked on the "private wilderness reserve," he says, the developers could have "clearcut, strip-mined, they could have removed about $8 million of fill from this pristine area, they could have gotten about 350 lot approvals and consequently made this a high-density development not unlike Clayton Park."

We seemed to have lost any concept of a shared common good for wilderness areas---they're simply another product to be exploited, abused, left for dead or, if we're lucky, some nice rich people will protect them, so long as you dirty public stay the hell out.

In the scheme of things, the Avalon development isn't the end of the world---some locals will be pushed off their old stomping grounds, but it's likely the last such development in HRM (Avalon couldn't be built under new subdivision rules).

Still, I can't help but think the development is analogous to the wider world, where we can't figure out how to both protect and allow access to limited resources, and where, in the end, what really matters is who's got the money.

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