Controversy at Cabot Links: Environmentalists complain (again)

The 16th green at Cabot Links

With Cabot Links finally near opening, the same group that have complained about the project from the start have managed to gain some more media attention — CBC at least — once again.

The Department of Natural Resources says it’s looking into whether Cape Breton’s newest golf course violates provincial laws, just one week before its grand opening.

Bruce Nunn, a spokesman for the department, said staff are looking into whether Cabot Links — opening in Inverness on Friday — is violating the province’s Beaches Act by encroaching on protected dunes.

“What they need to do is continue the investigation, gather the facts and see if there are any issues there that are potentially in violation of the Beaches Act,” he told CBC News.

“That hasn’t been determined yet, the investigation is still ongoing.”

Fascinating that anyone could complain with what Ben Cowan-Dewar and Mike Keiser have done on the site — especially considering it was a coal mine that was left as a scar on the earth for decades. Now it is a golf course that embraces a natural aesthetic and suddenly there are complaints?

Interestingly, the man complaining — Neal Livingston — is one of the people who have complained about the course from the start. Basically Livingston seems opposed to any progress, and seems to prefer high unemployment to new businesses springing up in the town, which was basically dying before the golf course started up. Livingston says he’s not opposed to the golf course, but by his past actions, I’d say that’s untrue:

Livingston said the group is not opposed to the golf course, but wants the Minister of Natural Resources to order Cabot Links to get off the protected land and remediate it.

“I think everyone is interested to see economic development in Inverness. It’s a good thing, but just like you can’t drive through a stop sign without that being illegal, protected areas are protected and they have legislation around them,” he said.

“It’s not appropriate for people to be operating in any way that would damage a protected area, so we’re saying to the government, they should treat this matter seriously.

Livingston has in fact been complaining about the course for a couple of years. 

The fascinating thing about the whole debate by a group of people opposed to any advancement in the town of Inverness is that they seem to ignore what they’ve gotten. The so-called “developer,” Cowan-Dewar, is hardly a developer in any traditional sense. Yes, there’s a golf course and a hotel, but this isn’t a huge residential development. And the project uses natural grasses throughout and has done its best to impose as little on the land as it can — its that sort of course. To top it off, I’m not sure what dunes those opposed to the course are talking about or what beach area is in question. The site was largely a remediated mine — and the boardwalk already runs along a sandy dune for several kilometres. I’m not sure how the golf course could do any more damage — or cross the boardwalk.

Interestingly, one story said the complain from Livingston’s group was actually without merit, but the MNR found some other issue they are investigating when they showed up to look into the complaint.

A story in the Chronicle Herald added Cowan-Dewar’s remarks and more by Livingston:


“Throughout this process, we have always worked closely with all regulatory authorities and will continue to do so in everything we do going forward,” Cowan-Dewar said in an email. “This co-operative approach enabled this world-class facility to be developed in a timely, respectful and professional manner.”

Livingston said he was told by a Natural Resources investigator that it appears a portion of a fairway could be encroaching on the protected beach area.

“There are protected beaches all over the province, and if the government wasn’t stringent in making sure people abide by the laws, the beaches could be in real trouble,” Livingston said.

“This is an important public issue and we’re very pleased to see the government is taking this seriously. This is what functioning democracy is all about.”

Right — that’s exactly what a functioning democracy is all about. It’s about some individual opposed to a project making complaints time and again, having them shot down and finding new things to complain about. It is about an individual wasting government time and taxpayer dollars on complaints without merit.

Regardless, Cabot Links will open Friday. And despite Livingston’s best efforts, it’ll be a resounding success.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

19 CommentsLeave a comment

  • This is not surprising. Livingston is a professional activist and environmental zealot who seems to be against anything done for the area that is not on his terms. Hopefully the complaint will be summarily dismissed. I wish the very best to Ben, Mike K., and all of those responsible for this absolute gem that has been created in Inverness.

  • Very disappointing article. Attacking private citizens and shooting the messenger is inappropriate, unbecoming conduct and wreaks of ignorance and lack of respect for sensitive ecosystems. This earth is not JUST for your idle pleasure, golfers. If the gold course is not destroying sensitive beach dunes, argue your case on that basis. Shooting the messenger implies to me that your case is weak.

    • Seems to me that you are attacking the blog writer (is he not a private citizen as well?) with your post. Maybe you should investigate the facts before expressing the opinion in your comment?

    • I guess you would only believe the article to be truth based if it agreed with your left leaning opinion. Progress is good, especially in this particular case. The proper processes were adhered to (they HAVE to be in the golf development business or the environemtal agencies will simply close construction down and administer very hefty fines). People on the left talk big about helping areas out that have seen an economic downturn but are unwilling to see the benefits through responsible development. Having been to the area briefly I am confident that this great golf course will and have brought great things to the area.

  • SHAME Canadian Golfer! What you have shown is this article is that you are capable of nothing more that the lowest form of journalism and slander. You should be ashamed of yourself attacking a private citizen who’s interest is only in the protection and preservation of one of Canada’s most pristine beaches.
    Perhaps a more prudent move would be to cover the real issue instead of writing from your bias’s. SHAME.

  • Do you think any of these shit disturbing tree huggers are part of the terminally unemployed in Cape Breton?

  • Agreed, SalesGuru.
    God forbid any of these leeches on society give up their free and easy welfare cheques. Glad my taxes are going towards providing a living to these yahoos.

  • Also, do you think ‘Mary Gorman’ or ‘concerned caper’ are regular CG readers? Oh, the wonders of Google, free time, and a soap box.

  • Dealing with governments is always a tricky business. And golf courses today all too often live the reputation of golf courses in the past….which were not environmentally friendly…but in today’s times, those issues are largely gone.

    The uneducated think “Golf Course? —> must be bad for the environment.” Sad really. I know of golf courses that bend over backwards dealing with governments to ensure minimal if any damage to the environment by their operations…only to be held to even higher standards.

    One course I know with a creek running through it measures the quality of the creek water as it enters the course and water quality as it leaves the course. The water quality is better when leaving the course. In other words, the water quality improved after working its way through the course.

    Leave the uninformed zealots to their lot in life….which will be endless frustration when they argue their cause based on incorrect or minimal facts.

  • Caper and Mary — My blog, my bias. But I’ve written more about Cabot than anyone and been to Inverness many times. I find it fascinating that people are suddenly worried about a site that for years was a coal mine and then a remediated mine. Strikes me the golf course is a good use of a property that had no other purpose. As for the “dunes,” you folks should travel outside of your fair island to see real dunes — Scotland, Ireland, Australia. Golf is commonplace on those dunes, and has been for hundreds of years.
    It is a case of careful what you wish for — these’s no development at Cabot to speak of and no huge residential site. This could have been far more aggressive in the hands of a real estate developer. Instead you received a world class golf course, something that will bring people to Cape Breton and to Inverness, a place previously ignored by most who came to the island.

    • Wonderfully said, Mr. Thompson. Do you find it interesting that when someone fails to agree with something that is written by yourself or other columnists, they claim “ingnorance” or some “lack of respect.” I believe a lack of respect for the good people of Cape Breton would have been to not build the course at all. I am sure it would have been much easier for everyone involved to not do it at all. Because of their dedication to the project the area has been give a needed boost.

  • Perhaps these unemployed, or so it seems, residents of Inverness, except for the professional activist, could apply for employment at the golf course or at the lodge.
    After all, they do need 13 weeks of employment to qualify for the rest of us to look after them for the other 39 weeks of the year.

    All this, after several decades of these mine spoils ruining the environment and appeal of the area, the supposed delegates for the rest of the town would like to undo all the good that these, according to one poster, uses the land to satisfy their need for a “gold” course.

    Makes me wonder why they would think a golf course resort owner would want to invest several million dollars on the wasteland that was there before Cowan-Dewar arrived and did their best to upgrade the depressed economy of the area.

  • Totally agree with the comments directed towards to zealous efforts
    of Livingston, an eco-terrorist no doubt bent on disrupting the
    natural process of development. These are the same idiots who
    point at the guy driving a Hummer, but never complain when
    the groceries they buy are from a truck that delivers to the local
    Sobeys on a 53 foot 7 axle trailer gorging on unleaded gasoline !
    Total idiots, totally missing the big picture on what Cowan
    has magically done, create a jewel from a decrepit coal mining site
    and bring jobs and a better outlook to the Cape.

  • I would love to see a “before and after” picture of the site from mining wasteland to sublime beauty. I was at Cabot recently but it was too soon to “tee it up”. As we strolled along the boardwalk (not sure what hole) amoung the fescue and natural wetland were these tiny tee blocks close to the boardwalk, delicately placed, almost hidden, unless you followed the narrow footpaths. To me, it was a confirmation of respect for the land as well as the deft touch of Ron Whitman.

  • When i was reading over several articles regarding this issue there wasn’t much anyone could determine one way or the other. without civil engineering drawings, and drawings of the protected zones there is no way to know if or where the golf course was violating protected areas.

    All that I really could say is that it is my hope that the golf course developer was developing in a responsible manor which respects the protected designation, and understands and supports the importants of the dunes next to it.

    My strongest opinion is definitely towards the above kind of rhetorical journalism which portrays this situation as all or nothing. I did not get the impression that the activist organization was out to get rid of the golf course entirely, but simply to ensure that the development did not overstep the boundary of the protected zones. This ‘journalist’ seems more like the divisive extremist to me, and that is unfortunate, and counterproductive to both economic development and the environment.

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