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Bridgewater Bulletin Feature
Presented on this web site with permission of Lighthouse Publishing

June 22, 2005
MICA island purchase hinges on successful partnership with province
by Robert Hirtle

COUNTY -- Negotiations between the Mahone Islands Conservation Association (MICA) and the Nova Scotia government that would see the province give financial assistance towards the purchase of islands in Mahone Bay for public use are progressing well.

MICA chairman Michael Ernst told the group's second annual general meeting June 14 that while those discussions have been going favourably, it is still a bit premature to say that a deal has been completed.

Both parties are working on a partnership agreement that will mirror ones currently in place between the government and other environmental groups such as Ducks Unlimited and the Nova Scotia Nature Conservancy.

JoAnne Himmelman, executive director of the Lands Branch of the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources, who was guest speaker at the meeting, said the goal of the arrangement is "to put certain islands into Crown ownership.

"MICA does not want to own the property, they would like to have it in public ownership, and we're more than happy to have their help in doing that," she said.

Ms. Himmelman said the proposed partnership, while similar to the others the government is involved with, is also "very unique.

"MICA has offered not only funding toward the purchase, but they've also offered to help with stewardship, and that means a lot to us," she explained. "To acquire Crown land is great, but the resources to manage it is another issue and they were very forthcoming with that."

While talks have progressed well since the association first approached the province with their proposal in April, she said "there are certain steps that have yet to be taken to get the partnership in order."

Should the deal become finalized, the first priority of the merger will be the completion of the purchase of Andrews Island, for which the association has made an accepted offer of $620,000.

Ms. Himmelman said members of her department and representatives of MICA have met with the island's owners as part of the process, "and we really are working together" to get the transaction completed.

Should the partnership and the Andrews Island purchase become a reality, it would lead to further negotiations that could see a permanent agreement for future land purchases involving MICA and the province as funding from both parties becomes available.

That would see the association pay a set percentage contribution toward the purchase of an island or other coastal property they may be interested in acquiring on behalf of the Crown.

Properties would only be purchased if they were priced at market value or less, and once the transaction was completed, MICA would assume responsibility for stewardship of the land.

Because her department's annual budget for land purchases is usually not a lot -- $1.5 million has been allotted for 2005 -- Ms. Himmelman said she can't guarantee there will be money available every year.

"Sometimes we'll be successful, sometimes we won't," she said.

But despite that small budget, her department "recognizes we don't have enough Crown land and that is why we're turning to partnerships like this."

Justice Minister Michael Baker, who was also on hand at the meeting, applauded MICA for their level of professionalism, adding that his cabinet colleagues were impressed that the organization "was truly prepared to be a partner.

"Lots of people come through with ideas of buying things with Crown money, not nearly as many come forward who want to partner with the Crown in acquiring assets," he said. Mr. Ernst said the partnership "is a very exciting step that we are optimistic is going to take place."

And while he couldn't comment on what stage the negotiations between the association and the province is presently at, he did say the hope of a deal "is certainly stronger than it was last year."

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