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LETTER: Railway owner weighs in on Hantsport aboiteau issue

Letter to the Editor
Letter to the Editor

September 9, 2018

To the Editor and the Community of Hantsport,

I write in reference to the August 8th town hall meeting regarding the Halfway River aboiteau. During this meeting, government officials made several claims that misrepresented the railway's position. I am writing to clarify our position on this matter. We are in agreement with the citizens of Hantsport that the Province should fix the washout and aboiteau. In fact, we have been requesting that the Province give attention to this growing problem for over 10 years.

The Deputy Minister of TIR told those gathered at the meeting that the Province cannot fix the aboiteau because it’s located on land belonging to the W&H, and that TIR “can’t go on private property.” First, the aboiteau is embedded in the Halfway River, which per the Water Act and later the Environment Act is exclusively owned by the Province. The river cannot be owned by the railway or any other private individual or business.

Second, if TIR needs to access the railway’s adjacent property in order to fix the washout, the railway has always stated, and will state again, that the Province has our full and express permission to access our property for the purposes of fixing the washout of the Halfway River.

We have repeatedly given them permission to access any railway land as is necessary to fix the washout. We requested – on record – that the Government address this very issue and conduct maintenance of the aboiteau (as they do for nearly all of the other 225+ aboiteaux in the Province) over 13 years ago in 2005. Most recently, in a joint meeting with various stakeholders, we offered to participate in a solution to fix the washout and contribute up to $100,000 to the effort, the total cost of which was estimated by an engineering firm to be under $200,000. Instead of working with us to solve the problem, the Province chose to issue an Emergency Directive against me personally with potential penalties of $200,000 per day and 1 year in jail for unsafe rail operations, as we all know the railway is not currently operating. TIR then sent a letter to our insurance carrier stating that TIR is preparing to levy a claim of $7 to $10 million against the railway to fix the problem by raising the 101 connector and rebuilding the bridge. Why would a government wish to spend $7 to $10 million of our tax dollars to fix a $200,000 problem?

We are complying with the Directive even though we are objecting in the Courts to its authority. We have complied with every requirement and our Engineering firm applied for a permit with the Province several months ago which still has yet to be approved as of this writing. We feel that the Province has put us in an impossible, no-win situation by one Provincial department demanding we fix the washout and another Provincial department not granting us a permit to do the work.

We have spent significant amounts of time and money fighting to preserve this line until the need for freight rail returns. It is the right thing to do and is good for preserving business opportunities and jobs for Hantsport and the surrounding communities. We watch global gypsum markets very closely as gypsum has long been the lifeblood of this railway. Over the past 4 years synthetic gypsum production has sharply declined (due to increasing coal power plant closures), and U.S. wallboard producers have rapidly grown imports of natural gypsum. In 2018 gypsum imports have surged by 30%, the largest one-year increase in over a decade, and volumes have begun to surpass pre-recession levels. As many may know, Knauf of Germany is buying USG – a very positive development by a private company which sees the strategic value of these gypsum mines. The Fundy Gypsum mines will soon need to be restarted to meet this surging demand, but they can only be economically viable with freight rail directly serving the port in Hantsport.

We believe our patience will pay off with the revitalization of the railway, the mines, the port, and the return of hundreds of jobs to the region. If the railway is abandoned, any hope for the return of these businesses and jobs will be lost. We are invested in the creation of jobs for the Hantsport community, and wish our representatives would be as well.

We respectfully ask citizens to reach out to your government leaders and ask them to stop trying to fight and effectively expropriate the railway, and instead work with us by fixing the Halfway River washout and help us preserve rail transportation for the economic benefit of Hantsport and the entire Annapolis Valley.

Respectfully,

Bob Schmidt

President & CEO

The Windsor & Hantsport Railway

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