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Glenn Robinson and Bonnie Smith look over one of the maps of the proposed project to twin Highway 101 during an open house June 1.
WINDSOR, N.S. — When construction begins on the twinning of Highway 101 near Windsor, removing the causeway isn't in the plans.
However, widening it and upgrading the aboiteau is.
Representatives from several provincial departments took part in an open house June 1 to discuss with the public the plans to upgrade Highway 101 from Three Mile Plains to Falmouth.
Ken Donnelly, the chairman of the Hants County Committee Liaison Committee, said the open houses at the Royal Canadian Legion's branch 009 were the committee's way of engaging the public and informing them of what's being proposed.
When providing an overview of the project, he said the man-made causeway will remain in place.
“The causeway will have to be widened a bit, in some areas, at least, to allow for the twinning of the highway,” said Donnelly, who noted a more detailed design is still required.
“An important part of the causeway is to protect the town from sea-level rise due to the climate change so there are elevations that will have to be changed on the causeway,” he added.
The plan also proposes changing the on and off ramps so that they will be standard diamond interchanges.
“All the ramps will be like how you'd see on the newer highways so that makes it a bit safer,” said Donnelly, noting the changes would eliminate such things as crossing traffic to get onto a ramp and providing more space to merge with traffic.
As part of the proposed design, the Department of Transportation is proposing the installation of a freeway cable barrier median versus the traditional wire median freeway. This means the distance between the centre line would be closer to the other centre line by about nine metres. However, a high tension cable barrier would be installed in the median.
Hants West MLA Chuck Porter has been lobbying to improve the 9.5 kilometre stretch of highway since he was first elected 11 years ago. He attended the open house to see firsthand what is being proposed.
“What I want is to make sure we have a highway that is doable, affordable and safe. In the end, that's what matters to me,” said Porter.
The former paramedic had previously urged the government to install a jersey barrier, and said he was interested in learning more about the freeway cable barrier median that's being proposed.
“I think we have to be open-minded when it comes to this project; have a look at all the options that are put forth and hope we get the one that best suits us that is affordable and safe for us to be able to make happen — and soon,” said the MLA, who believes the project could be completed within the five to seven year time frame.
“We've been at it a long time now and nobody will be more happy than me the day this highway opens and we're twinned all the way through.”
Reviewing the causeway
Kevin Bekkers, the manager of land protection with the Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture, said they're focusing their energy on making the aboiteau and causeway the most efficient structure possible.
“The causeway acts as a dike that currently protects the Town of Windsor from becoming four islands and flooding the 3,800 acres of farmland that's behind (it). It's very important,” said Bekkers, indicating that people don't necessarily understand its function. “Without that, there would have to be some mitigation to keep the tide from flooding that infrastructure and land base that's behind it.”
There are several stakeholders that rely on the current set up — most are users of Lake Pisiquid. Bekkers said the department has been in consultation with these special interest groups.
Bekkers said partnering with the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure will result in cost-savings for all involved as they will be able to upgrade or replace the existing aboiteau.
“It allows us to work together to create an efficient, cost-effective solution for Nova Scotians. This one, in our view, is a tremendous opportunity,” said Bekkers.
“I have other aboiteau structures that are in similar situations — end of life — and I don't have the luxury of having a highway going over it to partner with the transportation to solve that.”
He said the causeway's current gate mechanisms require a significant overhaul or replacement.
Studies have been completed on the environmental assessment of the project and a report has been prepared and submitted to the Department of the Environment for review.
Questions or comments on the document from the public must be submitted to the Department of Environment by June 7. The provincial minister will then rule on the environmental assessment by June 27.
Bob Pett, an environmental analyst with Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, said a considerable amount of research has gone into preparing the environmental assessment. Aside from the marshland component, the project would have little impact on the environment, he said.
“The method that we've proposed to crossing, which is to keep the existing aboiteau, or an upgraded version of it, intact, is the most cost-effective and technically feasible way to twin the highway and control the flooding that would occur without the dike system,” said Pett.
He said special attention must be paid to the unique ecology of the salt marsh.
“The wetland itself is salt marsh, which formed since the causeway developed, (and) is classified as a wetland of special significance because of its importance to the overall ecology of the area,” said Pett. “Salt marshes, in particular, are of global significance.”
In order to offset the impact widening the causeway would have, Pett said they're proposing conducting restoration projects nearby, like in St. Croix and beside the causeway.
Fish passage concerns
Darren Porter, a Bramber fisherman who is involved with the Fundy United Federation — a group concerned with the tidal turbines — is working on a special two-year study of marine life in the area.
Porter has long had concerns about the fish passage at the causeway and says since the study was launched, in conjunction with Acadia University and the Mi'kmaq community, they have already found some conflicting evidence.
“As an example, the previous study caught one eel outside (the causeway); I caught up to 90-some in one trap. It's a completely different outcome,” said Porter.
The fisherman said he'd prefer to see a fish passage installed that didn't require gates.
Pett says the plan is to improve the existing causeway to better meet the fish passage requirements.
“When we originally designed it, it wasn't intended to have as much fish passage. We were able to adapt it and it got better over the years. Granted, it's not the best,” said Pett.
The environmental analyst said they plan to hire an experienced team to design the new fish passage system.
“It's not going to be 100 per cent — it can't be when you have a dike system — but it'll be a vast improvement over what it is now. Unless we achieve that, DFO is not going to approve it. So there's more approvals to come after this environmental assessment,” said Pett.
Porter, who has passionately lobbied for better fish passage at the causeway, is hoping the environment minister will heed the concerns of local experts.
“We were hoping that they would use this study in that (environmental assessment) but they're just going to use it in the DFO section, which is unfortunate. We were hoping that it would be implemented into the EA process so the minister could make an informed decision,” said Porter.
The study, which was launched in April, will look at fish passages, abundance, and species types on both sides of the causeway — fresh water and salt water.
Porter said he'll have something prepared before the June 7 deadline detailing concerns and the initial results.
“Whatever we do here, it's 50 years. It seals the deal for 50 years. We have a chance here to make some change. I don't know what that change is, but I think we should do the best we can,” said Porter.
To voice your concerns or questions about the environmental impacts of the Highway 101 twinning project for Hants County, submit them online at www.novascotia.ca/nse/ea/highway-101-twinning-three-mile-plains-to-falmouth.asp or via email at EA@novascotia.ca. To stay informed of the developments, visit www.hwy101windsor.ca.
Written comments can be sent to the Environmental Assessment Branch, Nova Scotia Environment, P.O. Box 442, Halifax, NS, B3J 2P8.