Salt in the wound

Tides turn on Hantsport aboiteau is­sue as prov­ince waits for rail­way com­pany to fix struc­ture

Valley Journal Advertiser - - FRONT PAGE - BY COLIN CHISHOLM WWW. HANTSJOURNAL. CA

The prov­ince is hope­ful that the owner of the Wind­sor and Hantsport Rail­way will hon­our his word and re­build the aboiteau struc­ture that col­lapsed last win­ter.

But if he doesn’t, the prov­ince says they’ll con­sider other op­tions.

Dur­ing a pub­lic meet­ing on Sept. 10 at the Hantsport School, sev­eral pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and staff up­dated ap­prox­i­mately 200 com­mu­ni­tymem­bers on how the dis­pute with the rail­way on the aboiteau is­sue is pro­ceed­ing.

Roy­den Trainor, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of trans­porta­tion and in­fra­struc­ture re­newal, said he’s cau­tiously op­ti­mistic that Bob Sch­midt, who owns the rail­way, will do as he says in a let­ter to the ed­i­tor sub­mit­ted to the Val­ley Jour­nal- Ad­ver­tiser prior to the meet­ing. (To read the let­ter, turn to page A09.)

“We have ev­ery in­ten­tion of hold­ing Mr. Sch­midt to his word to re­build that aboiteau tout suite,” Trainor said. “We wish he had done it in Oc­to­ber when we asked.”

Sch­midt has said that the prov­ince was ob­struc­tive when it came to get­ting any main­te­nance done to the struc­ture, be­fore and af­ter its col­lapse.

The prov­ince is­sued an emer­gency di­rec­tive to Sch­midt, with the threat of fi­nan­cial fines and po­ten­tial jail time if the struc­ture re­mained ne­glected. That mat­ter went to court and the judge granted a stay on the mat­ter un­til Jan­uary 2019.

How­ever, Sch­midt’s lawyers said they have ev­ery in­ten­tion to fix the aboiteau them­selves.

Trainor said that var­i­ous pro­vin­cial de­part­ments are work­ing to get the ap­proval nec­es­sary for Sch­midt to fix the struc­ture.

Too late to save well water

Even if the aboiteau at the Halfway River in Hantsport is fixed, for some it will be too lit- tle, too late.

Evan Merks and his part­ner Court­ney Shay live on Schur­man Road, lo­cated just out­side Hantsport, which has been se­verely im­pacted by the col­lapse.

“In De­cem­ber, right be­fore Christ­mas, my well went from fresh water to salt water,” Merks said.

“We couldn’t use our wash­ing ma­chine, dish­washer; can’t drink it,” Shay said. “I had to shower at my par­ents most of the time.”

Ap­prox­i­mately a month later, Merks pur­chased a re­verse-os­mo­sis ma­chine, which con­verts salt water into fresh. It’s a very ex­pen­sive piece of ma­chin­ery and they said was not es­pe­cially ef­fi­cient. Be­fore long, their well was dry.

He even­tu­ally pur­chased totes to hold fresh water, fill­ing them up at his fa­ther’s farm, which he does twice a week.

Merks also owns the ad­ja­cent prop­erty, which he was hop­ing to rent out to sup­ple­ment his mort­gage. But, with­out fresh water, that’s al­most im­pos­si­ble.

Sell­ing it won’t be easy ei­ther. So what’s next?

“I have no idea” Merks said. “Who wants to buy a house that’s con­tam­i­nated with salt water?”

Merks said he’s open to look­ing at a land pur­chase from the prov­ince, if that’s pos­si­ble, but said he’s not aware if that’ll be hap­pen­ing.

Even if the aboiteau is re­built, Merks said it’s likely too late to fix their prop­erty.

“The land, the well is con­tam­i­nated. The bank is go­ing to start erod­ing, the trees are dead,” he said. “Our next op­tion is prob­a­bly just to aban­don ship and get out. We can’t build a life there.”

Other ar­eas of con­cern for res­i­dents are the grounds of the Hantsport Me­mo­rial Com­mu­nity Cen­tre, which has fields that abut on the Halfway River, which is start­ing to erode.

The River­bank Ceme­tery is also a ma­jor con­cern for res­i­dents, as fur­ther ero­sion could lead to many burial sites be­ing de­stroyed.

Ca­role MacDon­ald also lives on Schur­man Road with her hus­band Bob. Their prop­erty, which sits atop

a steep hill and abuts the Halfway River, could be at risk as trees die from the in­com­ing salt water.

She’s wor­ried that as more trees on the hill die, ero­sion will ac­cel­er­ate, and threaten her prop­erty.

“At this point, it’s re­ally too late, the trees are al­ready dead,” MacDon­ald said out­side her home, where she’s lived for over 50 years. “Our home is very close to the top of the bank, ero­sion will grad­u­ally work its way up the bank.”

She’s con­cerned that her well could also be­come con­tam­i­nated, like her neigh­bours, al­though it hasn’t yet.

MacDon­ald said the aboiteau needs to be fixed, the sooner the bet­ter.

“The smell was aw­ful, es­pe­cially

through the sum­mer. This is our back­yard,” she said. “We don’t need this worry at this stage in our lives.”

Next steps

Hants West MLA Chuck Porter said in an in­ter­view that he’s glad there ap­pears to be some mo­men­tum on get­ting the is­sue fixed.

How­ever, any work will still need ap­proval from a va­ri­ety of pro­vin­cial and fed­eral agen­cies be­fore it can move ahead.

“We’ve moved the en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment ahead on this. Some­times they can take up to six months, so we know the im­por­tance of this to this com­mu­nity,” he said. “DFO (the fed­eral de­part­ment of fish­eries and oceans) has been in­volved, and they’ve given it their

bless­ing.”

The MLA said the con­sul­ta­tion with First Na­tions will con­clude in a cou­ple of weeks.

Fol­low­ing that, he said an ap­proval will be sent to Sch­midt to build the re­place­ment aboiteau.

“We’re very hope­ful that he will do that,” he added. “If that doesn’t hap­pen, we have a Plan B and (Plan) C, rais­ing the roads if need be, but more im­por­tantly, we’ve done some pre­lim­i­nary work on build­ing an aboiteau of our own, away from his prop­erty, to the tune of around $8 mil­lion.”

He also said that the prov­ince has a va­ri­ety of other “tools in the tool­box” they could use in its dis­pute with the Wind­sor and Hantsport Rail­way, but added that they’re keep­ing those op­tions close to the vest while they con­tinue through the court.

“I think we’ve made quite a bit of progress since Aug. 8,” he said.

Fish pas­sage re­quested

Dar­ren Porter, a lo­cal fish­er­man and pro­po­nent of leav­ing the Halfway River open, said he doesn’t be­lieve the aboiteau sit­u­a­tion will be ‘ fixed’ as quickly as the gov­ern­ment says, adding that he plans to bring for­ward a re­quest to have an en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment done.

“TIR (the pro­vin­cial de­part­ment of trans­porta­tion and in­fra­struc­ture re­newal) is stat­ing that DFO has al­ready given them the go-ahead, when they haven’t even fin­ished con­sul­ta­tions with First Na­tions,” Dar­ren Porter said. “It just doesn’t make sense; it’s 2018 and Justin Trudeau is our Prime Min­is­ter, that’s not how (this) is sup­posed to hap­pen.”

Con­sul­ta­tions with First Na­tions is ex­pected to con­tinue un­til the end of Septem­ber.

Dar­ren Porter also said he takes is­sue with gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials de­scrib­ing the aboiteau plan as a small re­pair. He de­scribes it as a full-blown re­place­ment — cut­ting off a newly flow­ing tidal river and salt marsh.

“They think they’ve found a loop­hole where they can call it a re­pair to an ex­ist­ing struc­ture, but there’s noth­ing left,” he said.

“Those trees (along the con­nec­tor road) are not com­ing back, they’re dead. If you block off that river again, there’ll be noth­ing left,” he said. “That salt marsh that’s now there is com­ing alive. Within two years it’ll be lush and green.”

He said he an­tic­i­pates “mul­ti­ple groups,” in­clud­ing him­self, to for­mally re­quest an en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment be­fore any­thing can pro­ceed.

West Hants coun­cil­lor Paul Mor­ton said no fu­ture pub­lic meet­ings will be called un­til some­thing gets an­nounced.

COLIN CHISHOLM

Bob and Ca­role MacDon­ald watch as the tide comes in from their deck, bring­ing with it salt­wa­ter that is threat­en­ing their prop­erty and their way of life. The MacDon­alds live on Schur­man Road, just out­side of Hantsport.

COLIN CHISHOLM

Bob and Ca­role MacDon­ald at their Schur­man Road home just out­side of Hantsport. They’re con­cerned that their prop­erty may be at risk af­ter an aboiteau at the Halfway River col­lapsed, which has led to salt­wa­ter killing trees near their prop­erty.

COLIN CHISHOLM

Hants County res­i­dents Dar­ren Porter and Bill Pre­ston line up to ask ques­tions dur­ing a pub­lic meet­ing on the Halfway River aboiteau on Sept. 10.

COLIN CHISHOLM

Rodyen Trainor, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor with the de­part­ment of trans­porta­tion and in­fra­struc­ture, an­swers ques­tions while West Hants Coun. Paul Mor­ton lis­tens.

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