Who is responsible?

There are some complaints that do not clearly fall into the authority of one department or another to address. This Office was contacted by a property owner who had concerns about a dilapidated wharf in inland waters that was located on the shoreline area of a lake. This wharf was reported to be partially dismantled with pieces washing up on neighbouring properties. There were concerns that the wharf could be a boating or swimming hazard.

The complainant had tried to have this issue remedied by contacting the municipality and the departments of Environment and Natural Resources. With no department taking ownership of the issue, the complainant contacted this office.

An Ombudsman Representative consulted with both the departments of Environment and Natural Resources. Both were referring the matter to the other department. After several discussions with the departments and meetings between the departments, Nova Scotia Environment agreed to send an inspector to assess the current situation with the wharf. Their conclusion was that it was not a matter that could be addressed under the Environment Act and again referred back to the Department of Natural Resources. 

The Department of Natural Resources has a wharf policy; however, the permit for this wharf pre-dates the period the policy covers. Although there was a permit in place, with conditions to maintain the wharf in a good state of repair, the individual the permit was issued to was deceased. After involvement by this Office, the permit was revoked; however, the wharf remained. The Department of Natural Resources sent a Compliance Officer to the site. While there was some uncertainty as to how this issue could be dealt with through the Crown Lands Act, the department agreed to remove the wharf. As a result of this review, three recommendations were issued to the Department of Natural Resources. These recommendations focused on an upcoming review of the department’s policy on wharves and the development of a complaint process for the public related to wharves on in-land waters.

More specifically, this Office recommended that during the review of the Policy for Wharves, Floating Docks, Boat Ramps and Moorings on Submerged Crown Land, DNR provide clarity regarding their authority and procedures undertaken should a permit for a wharf be cancelled or revoked. It was also recommended that DNR develop policy and/or procedures that provides guidance to DNR staff on processes to address issues involving wharves in existence prior to 2002 (or incorporate into current policy). The final recommendation asked that DNR develop a process to address public complaints involving wharves and where appropriate, do so in consultation with NSE.