05/09/2012 02:17 EDT | Updated 07/09/2012 05:12 EDT

Nova Scotia bill would extend licensing agreements for companies on Crown land

HALIFAX - Forestry companies would have the opportunity to enter into longer licensing agreements with the province under proposed amendments to Nova Scotia's Crown Lands Act.

Natural Resources Minister Charlie Parker said the changes tabled Wednesday would allow licences to be extended to 20 years from 10 years.

Parker said the longer agreements would allow companies to develop sustainable management plans.

He said the legislation would provide options for agreement renewals and allow the province to withdraw when companies aren't in compliance with sustainable development goals.

Parker said the government would also be better able to set terms and conditions for the use of Crown lands.

He said he believed the legislation would be acceptable to Pacific West Commercial Corp., which is looking for favourable conditions to complete its purchase of the idled NewPage Port Hawkesbury paper mill.

"There are certain guidelines that they'll have to follow, but I think we can work with them," Parker said.

"I believe they are as interested as we are in good forest management."

A department official said the length of the licensing agreements is similar to those in most other provinces in Canada.

Matt Miller of the Halifax-based Ecology Action Centre said he agreed that the 20-year agreements would give the province more flexibility in dealing with forestry companies and in setting out sustainable development plans.

However, Miller said public input into the province's natural resources strategy released last year was clear that there should be more transparency and collaboration when it comes to decisions about Crown land.

"Without having some sort of a mechanism to provide public input into the operation of Crown land, I don't think anybody can say the public's been heard," said Miller.