Our dis­ap­pear­ing land

Along Fundy shore, prop­erty is slid­ing into the bay. One farmer says 30 to 40 me­tres of his farm­land has been lost in the last sev­eral decades.


The Bay of Fundy is a sub­tle but pro­lific prop­erty thief. Rod Dens­more of Noel Shore hasn’t re­ally caught the bay in the act but he can tes­tify to its per­sis­tent ac­tiv­ity. “I can re­mem­ber the fields, a hill to­ward the wa­ter and when you got to the bot­tom of the hill, the land used to level out but it doesn’t any­more,” Dens­more said of the farm prop­erty on the north side of High­way 215 where he has lived for all of his 76 years.

“You are com­ing up­hill at the edge of the bank now.”

Dens­more says some 30 to 40 me­tres of farm­land have dis­ap­peared over the years.

“At one point, it was kind of like a semi­cir­cle,” he said. “It didn’t roll down the bank, it just kind of slid down and set­tled. I had my ground plowed and I just took my head ridge prob­a­bly 30 feet in and 100 feet across. It just slid down and sort of washed away.”

The Dens­more prop­erty now ends with a six-me­tre drop down an em­bank­ment to the bay. At nor­mal high tide, the re­lent­less Fundy munches steadily on the soil up to nearly a quar­ter of the height of the em­bank­ment. In storm surges, its vo­rac­ity in­ten­si­fies.

Dens­more said farms all along the shore have sur­ren­dered land to the bay.

“Noth­ing was ever done to hold it back,” he said.

With sea lev­els in the prov­ince ex­pected to rise by about .45 me­tres by 2055 and by a me­tre by 2100, it’s time to do some­thing.

“Peo­ple want more in­for­ma­tion, they are won­der­ing if there are any plans for them to ac­tu­ally start adapt­ing to the changes they are al­ready see­ing, know­ing that there are go­ing to be more to come,” said Brit­tany Macisaac, who in her role with the Ecol­ogy Ac­tion Cen­tre has be­ing do­ing a series of pub­lic work­shops on sea level rise across the prov­ince.

For the most part, it’s up to govern­ment to glean and cir­cu­late vi­tal sea level in­for­ma­tion.

“It’s a ma­jor fac­tor in Nova Sco­tia,” said En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Mar­garet Miller, who re­cently re­turned to the de­part­ment from Nat­u­ral Re­sources. “Peo­ple who were deny­ing cli­mate change and were deny­ing that we would have ero­sion were bury­ing their heads in the sand.”

Ja­son Hol­lett, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the cli­mate change team with the En­vi­ron­ment De­part­ment, said the prov­ince is do­ing a lot to pre­pare for the im­pacts that come with that change.

“Nova Sco­tians have a lot to be proud of in terms of our green­house gas emis­sion re­duc­tion over the last cou­ple of years but no mat­ter what we do, we know a lot of this change is sort of locked in over the next 100 years or so,” Hol­let said. “A lot of what we’re do­ing is cre­at­ing or help­ing com­mu­ni­ties or af­fected or­ga­ni­za­tions have ac­cess to or cre­ate the in­for­ma­tion that they need in order to plan for the im­pacts. For ex­am­ple, we work closely with the town of Yar­mouth, Lunen­burg, a few other coastal com­mu­ni­ties around the prov­ince to do some de­tailed sea level rise and storm surge map­ping so that they can iden­tify crit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture or fu­ture im­pacts from cli­mate change.”

Hol­lett said Mu­nic­i­pal Af­fairs did a ground-break­ing pro­gram with the prov­ince’s 51 mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties a cou­ple of years back, re­quir­ing mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties to cre­ate cli­mate change ac­tion plans.

“It’s a de­tailed anal­y­sis of what im­pacts they fore­see and the is­sues and op­por­tu­ni­ties for their mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties.”

Hol­lett said that one-of-a-kind mu­nic­i­pal anal­y­sis in Canada al­lowed the provin­cial de­part­ment to fo­cus on “com- mon is­sues that folks are deal­ing with in terms of cli­mate change – sea level rise, storm surges, ex­treme weather events.”

But all mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties have not been cre­ated equally, es­pe­cially not in a prov­ince that boasts 8,000 kilo­me­tres of coast­line, jump­ing to 13,000 kilo­me­tres when the land around har­bours, coves, in­lets and tidal es­tu­ar­ies are in­cluded.

“It shouldn’t be mu­nic­i­pal­ity against mu­nic­i­pal­ity, it should be one set of rules for the whole prov­ince,” said Carolyn Bo­li­varGet­son, mayor of the Mu­nic­i­pal­ity of the District of Lunen­burg and its 25,000 peo­ple.

By con­trast, Hal­i­fax Re­gional Mu­nic­i­pal­ity is home to more than 430,00 peo­ple and it is guided by a com­pre­hen­sive mu­nic­i­pal plan­ning strat­egy from 2014.

“We have a pol­icy that ef­fec­tively says we will es­tab­lish a ver­ti­cal buf­fer along coastal ar­eas and ev­ery coastal land-use by­law within the mu­nic­i­pal­ity will be up­dated to re­flect this new ver­ti­cal (buf­fer) ... es­sen­tially for storm surge pro­tec­tion,” said Alex Mac­don­ald, a cli­mate change spe­cial­ist with the city’s en­ergy and en­vi­ron­ment de­part­ment.

The buf­fer is 2.5 me­tres above the or­di­nary high wa­ter mark.

The Mu­nic­i­pal­ity of Lunen­burg has no by­law reg­u­la­tions about build­ing prox­im­ity to the coast but it is work­ing on map­ping its in­land flood plains to pre­pare for storm surges. Bo­li­var-get­son looks for­ward to uni­form buf­fer zone reg­u­la­tions for new build­ings that will be part of provin­cial coastal pro­tec­tion leg­is­la­tion to be drafted and passed later this year or in 2019.

“We don’t want to con­tinue to pay for bad de­ci­sions,” Bo­li­var-get­son said. “We need to make sure that there are rules and reg­u­la­tions that help pro­tect the tax­payer and pro­tect our res­i­dents from los­ing their valu­able prop­erty.”

Still, Hol­lett said the onus will be on mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties to pro­duce their own cli­mate change adap­ta­tion plans.

“Ev­ery­one is go­ing to be deal­ing with sim­i­lar im­pacts but in their own con­text,” Hol­lett said. “You could be a town like Rock­port that’s an is­land, con­nected to the main­land by a re­stricted beach. You could be HRM, which is roughly the same size as P.E.I. and goes from ur­ban to ex­tremely ru­ral. Ev­ery­one is dif­fer­ent in their con­text and ev­ery­one is dif­fer­ent in their ca­pac­ity.

“That’s an im­por­tant thing for any­thing we do in the prov­ince, to rec­og­nize the dif­fer­ences that we have here.”


Roderick Dens­more has lost sev­eral acres of farm­land due to ero­sion in Hants County.

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