Has Neal Livingston lost his %$@& mind?

A couple of years ago, a friend and I travelled to Inverness for a celebration honoring the wonderful author and columnist, Frank MacDonald. On the off-chance alcohol might be consumed, we sought lodging at one of the town’s two motels. Our choices were Grim and Grimmer.

Inverness had many charms — spectacular setting, fascinating history, unique culture, magnificent beach — but no economic engine since its coal mines shut down in the 1960s. Boarded up storefronts and seedy hand-painted signs for the few surviving businesses offered silent testimony to the community’s entrenched gloom.

Into this sad civic concoction came Ben Cowan-Dewer and Allie Barclay, a Toronto couple determined to achieve a dream that had eluded Inverness for decades: building a top-notch golf course on the coal-ravaged landscape that separated the down-at-the-heels village from its glorious beach.

In 2008, they moved their family down from Toronto, leaving behind Barclay’s career in finance. They found golf-savvy investors and crackerjack course architects. They assembled 14 parcels of land from various owners. In the depths of the deepest recession since the 1930s, they raised “tens of millions of dollars” to reshape the mine site and build an 18-hole links-style golf course that is winning rave reviews. Canadian Golfer calls Cabot Links, “the best course built in Canada in the last 50 years.” On Canada Day, the New York Times devoted the front page of its Sunday sports section to an article extolling the course as, “a resort-quality, high-end layout designed to be a true links golf course, a boutique category of oceanside golf architecture exceedingly rare outside the British Isles.” The Globe and Mail’s Jane Tabor was equally effusive, as was the Toronto Star.

The course now employs 125 Invernessers — a staggering total in a village of 1,800 souls. If they ever throw another party for Frank MacDonald, out-of-town guests will be able to stay at the architecturally smart, 48-room luxury hotel that overlooks the course. The Robin Donut chain has opened the town’s first drive-through. There’s talk of another hotel, and Cowan-Dewar promises a second 18-hole seaside course, Cabot Cliffs, if the first course attracts 15,000 rounds this season. For the first time in decades, Inverness might just have a future.

This is all terribly upsetting to Neal Livingston. The media-savvy environmental gadfly has been a constant thorn in the side of Cowan-Dewar and Barclay. Last year, he claimed  the developers had reneged on an agreement to maintain a path from the highway to the far end of the town beach, although the parties to that agreement confirm that they worked out a satisfactory alternative path.

Last month, as the course was poised to open amidst a tidal wave of media accolades the likes of which Inverness has never seen, Livingston found another way to pee on the party. He issued a press release berating Nova Scotia’s Minister of Environment for being slow to act on his complaint that the course had damaged the beach.

In fact, officials of the Department of Natural Resources were quick to investigate — and reject — Livingston’s initial claim, although their investigation turned up a different issue: possible encroachment on real estate technically designated as part of the protected beach. You can see the devastating results for yourself in the photo above. (Kidding!)

As part of the links design, Cabot uses natural grasses and native vegetation. It is the least environmentally intrusive golf design possible. It replaces toxic coal mine tailings that had marred the landscape for decades, uncomplained-about by Livingston’s Margaree Environmental Association.

Here’s how golf journalist Robert Thompson viewed the contretemps:

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… 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…

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.

What I find striking is that Livingston could maintain a seasonal residence in nearby Mabou for decades and yet remain indifferent to the desire of those whose ancestors settled this beautiful land in the 19th Century to make a living there in the 21st. Has lost his mind? Probably not, but he appears to have lost all sense of perspective, compassion, and common sense.