Kings North MLA John Lohr says there’s something fishy about how Hantsport’s ongoing faulty aboiteau situation was handled by the provincial government, especially surrounding the announced fix earlier this year.
“It was a remarkable announcement for the lack of information,” Lohr said. “There was nothing on paper, no numbers, no press release, simply a verbal announcement and a promise.”
“Compared to 99 per cent of other government announcements, it felt like it was very unprepared,” he added. “It was unusual.”
Lohr, a former PC party leadership candidatm, submitted a FOIPOP to find out what communication between Hants West MLA and Municipal Affairs Minister Chuck Porter and department of transportation and infrastructure renewal minister Lloyd Hines took place – nothing was found in writing prior to the announcement.
Lohr said he found that troubling considering how long the aboiteau issue has been ongoing.
“Until the community held that protest, nothing was really happening on the file,” he said. “I have an issue with how this process was handled.”
The aboiteau, which sits near the mouth of the Halfway River close to the entrance of Hantsport from Highway 1, had been in a state of disrepair for years before its eventual collapse in early 2018.
Since then, community members have been concerned about how unrestricted tidal flow could impact infrastructure, including recreation sites, roads and a historic cemetery which sits near the river’s edge atop a hill.
Some residents have also lost their fresh water wells to the increase in salt water.
Community meetings were held at the Hantsport Baptist Church and Hantsport School in the summer of 2018, with officials from TIR and other provincial departments in attendance. Those meetings, which were well attended by members of the community, largely dealt with the court case against the Windsor Hantsport Railroad Company, which owns the rail bed that the aboiteau sits on.
The province has been in dispute with the railroad on ownership and responsibility for fixing the piece of infrastructure.
The court case against the Windsor and Hantsport Railroad was stayed in December.
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Lohr said it’s thanks to the people of Hantsport, who held a protest on the issue on Jan. 4, that forced the government to act - but he remains concerned about the lack of information on the file.
“The lack of due diligence when dealing with an issue like this, which has been ongoing for years, is really troubling,” he said. “I think the work that’s being done is great, I don’t want to cast aspersions on the company doing the work, but it feels like the government has been very sloppy in how they handled this.”
Hants West MLA Chuck Porter said the funding for the aboiteau replacement structure wasn’t secured until just prior to the announcement in January and was announced the day of the protest because the community was already gathered.
“It was being worked on constantly,” the Liberal MLA said. “Minister Hines went down to have a look at the situation in August, and we made plans to go back in September, which we did. The department (TIR) showed them some drawings and designs of a potential replacement.”
The initial cost estimate for a replacement structure was around $8 to $10 million, but the current proposal is box culverts for $4 million.
“No decisions had been made on that in August or September, but the legal battle with the railroad was well underway,” Porter said.
During question period in the provincial legislature on March 5, TIR minister Lloyd Hines said they decided to move forward with a fix following his tour of the area last summer.
“Last year in, I believe it was August or early September, I had an opportunity to visit the site,” Hines said, according to a transcript from the provincial legislature on March 5. “I spent quite a bit of time with a local councillor, who was a great guide, who showed me around there and explained the issues and the problems very clearly. So at that point in time, we decided that we would move forward with a plan to effect those repairs on that aboiteau.”
Porter said the conversations he had with Hines were largely in-person or over-the-phone chats, hence why there were no emails brought up in MLA Lohr’s FOIPOP.
“I can’t tell you the exact date the decision was made to fund this,” Porter said. “The department of transportation has made it clear that they do not own this aboiteau, but we are going in to fix it because we are concerned with the levels of water, spring runoff, we want to get this underway.”
Porter said the government consulted with First Nations groups and received certification from the federal department of fisheries and oceans. The province also received approvals from the Department of Environment to move ahead with the project.
The failed Hantsport aboiteau and its wooden box culverts are being replaced by two permanent concrete box culverts. An earth berm is being rebuilt on top of the culverts, according to a statement from TIR.
“The flow of water through the structure is expected to be the same as it was before the aboiteau failed,” Marla MacInnis, media relations advisor with TIR said in an email. “We are moving as quickly as engineering, safety and tides will allow. The site is proving to be more challenging than originally anticipated and we hope to have a better sense of timeline soon.”