HANTSPORT, NS - PC leadership candidate and agriculture critic MLA John Lohr says the Department of Agriculture is failing in its role of maintaining the provincial dyke system after an aboiteau near Hantsport was compromised.
“I do believe the province has to have a rapid response plan in place when (aboiteau) start to deteriorate,” Lohr said.
Lohr said he realizes that the way the Hantsport aboiteau deteriorated would have required more than a quick fix but adds that it’s still the department of agriculture’s responsibility to address these issues.
“I know there’s a debate over jurisdiction and I know that the department of agriculture is (responsible for) all - A-L-L - aboiteaus and dykeland, that’s in the act,” he said. “I’m not sure how the minister of agriculture can justify not covering all of them if the word ‘all’ is in the act. To me, all means all.”
The Kings North MLA said he’s aware that the owner of the railway, which sat on top of the aboiteau, has reached out to the province to rectify the situation.
Lohr brought up the dykeland and aboiteau issue with the minister of agriculture during question period at the Nova Scotia legislature in 2016.
In that exchange, the minister of agriculture, Keith Colwell, said that his responsibility, as far as dykes go, is with farmland and that structures outside of that are a municipal responsibility.
“I know there's one (dyke) in an area - Wolfville is one example. You go along the dykes and there's the dyke, it stops and there are playgrounds and all kinds of buildings inside it. The dyke is where the department's responsibility ends and the municipality has done nothing to build a dyke on their section of it,” Colwell said in 2016.
He also said during that question period, "They are working on a new standard to work with communities to bring these things up to scratch but it's really not our responsibility. Again, the municipalities have taken it on themselves and put things in harm's way that could potentially be in harm that aren't authorized by us - they found a cheap piece of land or whatever the case might be.”
Lohr argues that it’s the province’s responsibility to maintain the dykes regardless of what the surrounding land has been used for.
“I know that the Halfway River bridge is sort of threatened right now, which is one of the big issues with this (in Hantsport),” Lohr said. “I think the department is trying to get someone else to take responsibility for what they are ultimately responsible for.”
But a larger concern for Lohr is the dykeland and aboiteau infrastructure across the province – approximately 300 kilometres worth.
“There’s a vast amount of infrastructure that’s only slightly better off than the Hantsport Aboiteau, it’s OK, but it’s not great,” Lohr said.
He’s especially concerned now, with rising sea levels coupled with higher tides, that will likely put an added strain on the infrastructure.
“There’s a lot of infrastructure there, it won’t be easy for any government, and I believe there should be a federal partnership,” he said. “If we have a storm surge and a flood, federal disaster relief will be involved, so why can’t we get federal funding now to start fixing up some of these dykes so we can protect agricultural land and infrastructure.”
Agriculture minister not involved
When asked for comment, the Minister of Agriculture’s communications representative Marla MacInnis said Colwell is not involved with the Hantsport Aboiteau, adding a comment from the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal.
“The Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal has been in contact with Windsor & Hantsport Railway who are private owners of the Hantsport aboiteau,” MacInnis said. “Maintenance and repair of the structure are the responsibility of the landowner. Representatives of the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, the municipality, as well as local business officials have all been on site and witnessed the damage first hand.”
MacInnis added that major erosion has caused the bank to completely wash away.
"The timber box culvert system that form the aboiteau structure has experienced extensive damage," MacInnis said. "We are monitoring local provincial infrastructure, which includes roads and bridges. Because of unusual high tides and the loss of the Windsor-Hantsport railway structure, water reached the bottom of the bridge on Trunk 1 at Hantsport on Feb. 2. We temporarily closed the bridge so our engineers could properly inspect it. No issues were identified and the bridge reopened that evening.”