Irving says it's willing to continue talks with N.S. on land sale

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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HALIFAX - J.D. Irving is willing to resume discussions with the Nova Scotia government on the sale of 69,000 hectares of forest land, but a spokeswoman said Friday the company hasn't heard from province in weeks.

The province's acting finance minister, Chris d'Entremont, told reporters Thursday that negotiations were ongoing with Irving officials on the property in southwestern Nova Scotia _ some of which falls under his constituency.

``There is ongoing negotiations with Irving right now to see if there's maybe some parcels we might be able to grab or not grab,' he said.

But Mary Keith, Irving's vice-president of communications, said she hasn't heard of any talks with the province since late January.

``I'm not aware of anything since that time,' Keith said in an interview.

``We are certainly willing to have a conversation with them and were the province to make a commitment, we would still be interested and able to sell the unsold parcels.'

Natural Resources Minister Carolyn Bolivar-Getson confirmed Friday afternoon that the province isn't currently talking with Irving about the available land.

She said the province doesn't have the money to buy it.

``We would love to buy this land but we don't have the resources,' Bolivar-Getson said, adding they would be interested if the money becomes available.

Irving has set a deadline of May 2 to sell the forest land, but the government has said there's no money to buy the entire property.

The asking price is not clear, but it's believed when the Irvings first started shopping it to the province last year, the price tag was about $100 million.

Nova Scotia's oppositions parties appealed to Irving on Friday in hopes of preventing the company from selling the massive piece of land to a private owner.

There's concern public access to the land could be limited if the property winds up in private hands.

Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil said he expressed those worries during a meeting Friday in Halifax with Irving representatives, including company president Jim Irving.

McNeil said he doesn't believe the province has explored all of its options when it comes to buying the land.

``I think this government has just said, `We can't do it, too expensive,' ' he said. ``That's just not good enough.'

In a letter to the company, NDP Leader Darrell Dexter urged Irving to postpone its May 2 deadline.

``This is a very significant piece of our province,' Dexter wrote.

``I am writing to request that your company not proceed with the sale of any part of the property until stakeholders and the government have had an opportunity to determine what land it may be able to purchase.'

Keith would not say whether the company would consider extending the deadline.

In his letter, Dexter also advises Irving that postponing the sale would help maintain ``good relations' with Nova Scotians, which he notes has been a ``high priority' for the company.

The huge property, along with its hydroelectric potential, could help the government meet its stated goal of restoring at least 12 per cent of Nova Scotia's land mass to Crown ownership by 2015.

The property, which has been divided into three parcels, spans three counties, is almost double the size of nearby Kejimkujik National Park and encompasses a 600-kilometre trail network, 69 lakes and four river systems.

Organizations: J.D. Irving

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, HALIFAX, Bolivar Kejimkujik National Park

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