Not a ques­tion of if, but when

The Amherst News - - OPINION -

Sev­eral weeks ago mu­nic­i­pal lead­ers on both sides of the Nova Sco­tia-New Brunswick bor­der met with MPs Bill Casey and Do­minic LeBlanc to dis­cuss ris­ing sea lev­els and their po­ten­tial im­pact on the aging dike­land in­fra­struc­ture on the Tantra­mar Marsh be­tween Amherst and Sackville, N.B.

This is not the first time the threat of ris­ing sea lev­els has been talked about, but these dis­cus­sions re­ally haven’t gone any­where be­cause of the high price tag associated with re­pair­ing or re­plac­ing the in­fra­struc­ture on the marsh — some of which dates back sev­eral cen­turies when Aca­di­ans first con­structed a sys­tem of dikes to pro­tect the fer­tile soils they farmed.

There’s much more at stake today than 250 years ago and an enor­mous cost will be paid should the next Saxby Gale-like storm strike the area. Those who study the tides pre­dict such a storm would cre­ate a surge that could com­pro­mise the dikes and dam­age in­land in­fra­struc­ture such as the only rail line and high­way con­nect­ing this prov­ince to the rest of the con­ti­nent.

From that ini­tial meet­ing, Amherst Mayor Dr. David Ko­gon, Cum­ber­land County War­den Al­lison Gillis and Sackville Mayor John Higham are tak­ing the next step by reach­ing out to both fed­eral and pro­vin­cial of­fi­cials in their re­spec­tive prov­inces to meet with them to dis­cuss the threat to the dikes.

They es­ti­mate a mas­sive flood that cuts off the high­way and the rail­way could cost up to $50 mil­lion a day in lost com­merce, not to men­tion what it would cost to re­place those crit­i­cal pieces of in­fra­struc­ture. Be­sides this, there are mil­lions of dol­lars in pri­vate in­fra­struc­ture sit­u­ated be­hind the dikes, in­clud­ing agri­cul­tural land and nu­mer­ous pri­vate busi­nesses that would be threat­ened if the marsh were to suf­fer a cat­a­strophic flood.

The let­ter from the may­ors, dated Nov. 1, asks for a meet­ing with fed­eral and pro­vin­cial in­fra­struc­ture min­is­ters in the next month to as­sess the flood risk and to be­gin the plan­ning process that would lead to bring­ing the dike sys­tem up to date.

Sci­en­tists have pre­dicted sea lev­els will rise along the Isth­mus of Chignecto by as much as five me­tres be­fore 2100. With global warm­ing and more in­tense storms it only stands to rea­son that it’s not a ques­tion of if the dikes will be com­pro­mised but when.

We’ve al­ready seen what Mother Na­ture can do to other low-ly­ing ar­eas, such as New Or­leans af­ter hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina 12 years ago and the United Na­tions has al­ready listed the marshes here as be­ing vul­ner­a­ble to ris­ing sea lev­els.

Now is the time to plan for that even­tu­al­ity; not af­ter the fact when the dam­age is done and the cost even more to fix. We can only hope that those hold­ing the purse strings will take this is­sue se­ri­ously and in­vest the money re­quired to pre­vent a dis­as­ter from oc­cur­ring here.

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