Residents concerned about the worsening state of the Halfway River aboiteau could soon have reason to rejoice.
But Bill Preston is not going to get ahead of himself.
Preston, an Aboiteau Action Group member and longtime Hantsport resident, was surprised by the provincial government’s Feb. 22 announcement stating that work would begin on a $4-million permanent fix next week.
“It would be nice if it happens. We’ve had so many ‘they’re going to do this’ and ‘they’re going to do thats’ — and nothing happens,” he said.
The Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal announcement says wooden box culverts will be replaced with permanent concrete culverts, and an earth berm located above these structures will be rebuilt.
“We recognized the urgency of the situation and acted on the concerns brought forward by the community,” said Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal Minister Lloyd Hines in a prepared statement.
“By providing a permanent solution, we are ensuring the protection of agricultural lands and public infrastructure while also enabling appropriate fish passage.”
Preston likes the sound of a permanent fix, but he’ll hold off on breathing a sigh of relief for now.
“It’s pretty hard to see this happening right away. We’ve got extremely high tides right now. We’ve got ice that’s starting to build up in the river. It’d be sort of interesting to see what they’re going to do,” he said.
Preston, like many area residents, is concerned that the combination of higher water levels and large chunks of ice could severely damage the bridge leading into town.
“Our concern is the bridge, whether or not the bridge is going to go out because of the ice. There is still erosion on the banks. There is still erosion up by the community centre,” he said, citing saltwater in wells and septic fields as additional concerns raised by residents that stand to be impacted by the flooding.
“Nothing has been done for so long that everybody, to be quite frank, is just pissed off.”
Hundreds of protestors gathered near the Halfway River bridge Jan. 4 for a march that aimed to get the government to take notice of problems that surfaced as a result of the aboiteau failing more than a year ago.
“We had to show them that we weren’t just talking. We had to have something done and we wanted it done now.”
Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal spokesperson Marla MacInnis said the work slated to begin in a matter of days will offer a permanent solution.
“The new box culverts will offer the same flow of water as the previous box culvert. While developing this solution, we consulted with interested stakeholders, including the Hantsport community, First Nations, Windsor Hantsport Railway Company and the Department of Environment.”
MacInnis cited the impending spring weather as the reason to move forward with the fix before the ongoing legal matter with the American-based railway company is resolved.
“That legal process has been slow and, recognizing the potential impact of spring high tide and runoff, we took this action in order to protect agricultural land and public infrastructure,” she said via email Feb. 22.
“This does not mean the (Province of Nova Scotia) is taking ownership of the Windsor Hantsport Railway Company’s aboiteau. We will continue to pursue the company to recover the cost of this work.”
Dispute with railway
The matter of ownership and responsibility for repairs has long been a point of contention between the two parties.
Windsor and Hantsport Railway Company owner Bob Schmidt penned an open letter in September 2018 responding to claims government officials made at a public meeting regarding the aboiteau in August. In it, Schmidt asserts that railway company officials believe it is the provincial government’s responsibility to fix the failing aboiteau and related washout issues.
“In fact, we have been requesting that the province give attention to this growing problem for over 10 years,” the letter states.
Schmidt later adds that the railway company “repeatedly” stated that government employees gave permission to access the private property it owns in the area as needed to address the washout along the Halfway River.
“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,” he said in the letter.
“We watch global gypsum markets very closely as gypsum has long been the lifeblood of this railway.”
Schmidt did not respond to interview requests from the Valley Journal-Advertiser by deadline. Payment debate aside, Hantsport Coun. Robbie Zwicker said he’s encouraged to hear the government is moving forward with the repair work.
“I think it’s welcome news,” he said, noting that he would have liked to see more communication with the community throughout the planning process.
Zwicker said he’s fielded concerns about flooding, erosion near a local cemetery, the lack of adequate guard rails by the Hantsport connector road from Highway 101, contaminated water supplies and the significant loss of vegetation in the washout area since the aboiteau failed.
“We’re anxious to get this done.”
Like Preston, Zwicker is eager to learn how the government’s solution will control the flow of water passing through the aboiteau system.
“Stay tuned,” he said.
- Letter: lack of progress on aboiteau issue a sad state of affairs
- Hantsport gravestones at risk of being disturbed
- Fate of Halfway River remains up in the air
- Hantsport residents fed up waiting for the province to fix aboiteau break; peaceful protest planned
- LETTER: Railway owner weighs in on Hantsport aboiteau issue
- Tides turn on Hantsport aboiteau issue as province waits for the railway company to fix structure