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Wine Harbour residents divided on Whale Sanctuary Project; province processing Crown land lease application

  • October 25 2023
  • By Luke Ettinger, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter    

WINE HARBOUR — The Whale Sanctuary Project (WSP) is hoping to lease Crown land in the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s, but some local residents aren’t sold on the plan.

“It’s got nothing to do with the whales,” said Mike Newell, a seasonal resident of Wine Harbour, in an interview with The Journal on Oct 13.

He isn’t convinced there should be a whale sanctuary at the end of Barrachois Rd., close to where his cottage is located.

The WSP plans to net off 100 acres of a 201-acre lease in Port Hilford Bay, also known as Indian Harbour. The net will be anchored on land at Rocky Point at one end and at the tip of Barachois Island. The sanctuary is expected to care for animals being retired from marine entertainment parks and aquariums.

Newell also plans to retire in the community he described as quiet and peaceful. He is concerned about how tourist and construction traffic could affect the gravel road.

“There’s people down there all the time,” Newell said.

There will be no tourism infrastructure on the public road despite earlier plans, sanctuary executive director Charles Vinick said in an interview with The Journal on Oct. 11.

“In talking to the community, we felt we could reduce concerns about traffic on the road,” Vinick said.

He said the visitor centre in Sherbrooke is meant to deter tourists from going to the site where whales are expected to be housed.

“The whole nature of sanctuary is not to have people on site with the animals.”

Vinick said there are also plans for signage and a locked gate to restrict access to the wharf on Barrachois Rd.

Construction vehicles will have to use the road to build care facilities for the whales at the sanctuary, according to Vinick.

“It will be about the same [road use as required for building] small houses with less of the infrastructure,” Vinick said.

The Department of Natural Resources and Renewables is processing an application for a Crown land lease, according to an Oct. 16 statement to The Journal.

“Because of privacy considerations, we cannot provide any further particulars about the status at this time,” the statement says.

“The lease has been issued but it is not formally finalized until all the terms and conditions are met,” Vinick said.

He added the project is asking for consent from four landowners in the area, something he said isn’t essential for the department to allow sanctuary to go forward.

While the project awaits the result of the application, Newell isn’t convinced whales from theme parks will ever swim in Wine Harbour.

“I’m not knocking what they’re trying to do,” said Newell. “I think it’s all just a dream.”

Vinick said $5 million has been committed to the capital campaign of $12 to $13 million. He said the project has widespread community support.

“We do want to be very good members of the community,” Vinick said.

The project is what attracted realtor Jake Chisholm to invest in a short-term rental property in Wine Harbour.

“The economic spinoff [of a sanctuary] is massive,” said Chisholm in an interview on Oct. 19.

Chisholm is not concerned about the sanctuary having a negative impact on his Wine Harbour Rd. property.

“Regardless, if the whale sanctuary comes or not, the area is expanding and growing,” Chisholm said.