By Kyle Reid | The Irish Loop Post
A mysterious application to purchase crown land near the Old Witless Bay Line has some residents feeling left in the dark as they become increasingly frustrated with the lack of a formal public process to air their concerns.
And those concerns are plentiful.
Beverly Barbour is a member of a group of concerned residents who are opposing the application to purchase 46 hectares of crown land in the Old Witless Bay Line area. That application may have gone unnoticed, Barbour said, as it was only by a fortunate happenstance that residents discovered that someone had moved to purchase the land.
“We found out about it, there was a small sign placed on a tree on the Witless Bay Line,” said Barbour. “One of the seasonal (homeowners) then looked into it.”
There is no information about who has applied to purchase the land, or for what purpose. The Department of Fisheries and Land Resources won’t release the information unless the application is approved, as the area that the mystery applicant has requested, 46 hectares, falls just short of the 50 hectares which would have triggered the need for a public notice to be sent to residents. Barbour said she and others feel like the application is purposefully short of the 50 hectare mark, but as for why, they aren’t sure.
“This could have gone right on through and passed without anyone knowing,” said Barbour. “We don’t know why the secrecy is there.”
“Whoever applied for this knew what they were doing,” she added.
That land also falls inside an environmentally protected watershed area, and due to environmental regulations any development inside that area has been frozen. Normally, this would mean the application would be denied — however, those environmental regulations don’t apply to any agricultural development. Its lead to speculation the applicant intends to develop farmland in the area.
“(But) we have no idea — it could be just about anything,” said Barbour.
And while residents certainly aren’t happy that they have left in the dark, they have a myriad of other concerns with the application. A petition submitted to Ferryland MHA Keith Hutchings cites development concerns with pollution, destruction of trail systems, destruction of wildlife habitats and increased driving hazards along the roadway which residents are financially responsible for maintaining — among others.
Hutchings presented that same petition in the House of Assembly last Tuesday, requesting that the Department of Fisheries and Land Resources halt the application and move forward with a formal public commentary process.
“This is the reason for the petition; to ask the department to put the brakes on this so that people can have their questions answered and there can be discussions about the process,” said Hutchings. “There’s a lot of questions in regards to this actual application and we certainly ask the minister and government to take a look at this and to hear from those concerns before any further direction of any further consideration is given to this application.”
Gerry Byrne, Minister of Fisheries and Land Resources, responded to the petition, noting that while the provincial Liberal government supports agricultural development, he has recognized the concerns of area residents and his office is reviewing the application.
“This is simply an application, and a review is underway at this very moment,” said Byrne on Tuesday.
However, Barbour said she had been informed of a rumour on late Sunday evening that the application had been cancelled. That rumour could not be confirmed by the Irish Loop Post’s press deadline.
In the meantime, residents will have to wait until they hear an official decision. Barbour said that her group is not entirely opposed to development, but they just want to be kept informed about what’s happening in their backyard.
“We have a lot of questions, and there’s no answers to anything,” said Barbour.