Government silence on Ocean Pond puzzling

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There is a large cottage development (110 lots) proposed for land at Ocean Pond. The land (120 acres) is part of a larger block (320 acres) that was licensed to a Malcom Bethune of St. John’s in 1887. There was little activity in the area until the early 1980s when the land was surveyed.

People with summer cabins in the area, myself included, were interested in where this survey would lead, and I made inquiries. Since that time, as other events related to the property emerged, we continued to ask questions and request information from the government.

There has been a common thread in the results from these requests. When information was provided it was rarely, if ever, enough to give reasons behind decisions made, and many questions or letters were ignored.

I have come to accept the fact that when you try to correspond with government ministers (in writing or by phone) you get an incomplete or inadequate response, or, no response at all. This is evident in the following chronology of some of the issues or questions  pertaining to this land issue and the subsequent lack of government response.

They are as follows:

1.    The Bethune land licence had been acquired by the Garland Estate which was doing the aforementioned land survey. No one would tell me how this came about.

2.    The ownership issue of the licensed land was reviewed in the mid-1980s by Crown Lands and the Justice Department. There was apparently an extensive agreement/review process between Crown Lands and the Garland Estate. Supporting documentation was not provided.

3.    I was informed that in 1996 the original licence was cancelled and the land reverted to the Crown. There was nothing provided to substantiate or reject this information.

4.    In a 2010 letter from then minister Charlene Johnson, I was informed that the land had not reverted to the Crown and that in 2003, the government had approved issuance of a grant to the Garland Estate for certain portions of the land contained in the Bethune licence.

    This was also stated in a 2014 letter from then minister Joan Shea in which she wrote that “in 1997 a quieting of titles application was filed with the Supreme Court” but “prior to a court decision being rendered, an out of court settlement was agreed to between government and the estate.” Requests for details of these agreements or settlements have gone unanswered.

5.    The agreement between the Garland Estate and the government provided the former with about one half of their original request. This was more or less supported in Minister Johnson’ s letter and by a land survey conducted in 2009 that divided the originally claimed area into equal parts. Again, no requested details were provided.

6. On Dec. 23, 2013, a grant was issued to the Estate of James Garland containing about  120 acres. The previous agreement (see No. 5) had apparently been changed to include portions of both halves plus an additional portion of Crown land (four or five acres) that was not included in the original Bethune licence. The latter was a political decision as there was a land freeze in effect for the Ocean Pond area at the time.

    This addition was apparently negotiated by the Public Trustee. Once again, there was no response to requests for the details of the negotiations associated with these deals.

7.    The land was subsequently purchased (2014?) but no details are available.

Throughout the whole time period, as issues arose, I have made requests to ministers of environment and conservation as well as justice for information to help me understand why decisions were made. Was this asking too much of public servants for publicly owned information? One can only assume that the information is sensitive and potentially embarrassing for someone.

I am not opposed to change that we assume is progress, as it is inevitable. I own a cabin in Ocean Pond and, when it was constructed, was part of the process of change.

There has to be a limit, however, to the amount of development that any pond can sustain, and I understood that Crown Lands had determined that level as there has been a freeze on development at Ocean Pond for over 30 years.

The area to be developed was a pretty area with small ponds, wooded ridges and bogland. It had a good hiking trail kept active by a few of us and the moose. It was a pleasure to walk, canoe and fish there listening to the always abundant hermit thrushes amid the smells of the seasons.

 When I go there now I get only a fishy smell. It may never go away.

Claude A. Bishop writes from Ocean Pond.

Organizations: Justice Department, Supreme Court

Geographic location: Ocean Pond

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