HANTSPORT, N.S. – Some Hantsport residents say they’re done waiting patiently for the government to fix the failed aboiteau and are taking action.
Traci Curry, a resident of Hantsport, is the spokesperson for the Aboiteau Action Committee, a group of citizens concerned about the state of the Halfway River.
They’ve formed a Facebook group and are planning to keep the issue front and centre through an awareness campaign in the months ahead.
“For a year we felt that the right thing, the common sense approach, would happen,” Curry said. “That (the province) would fix the aboiteau, but a year later we all looked at each other and thought ‘wow, we’ve been very nice and kind so far, but maybe we need to be a little more vocal.’”
The committee, which is made up of seven members, represents several stakeholders in Hantsport, including residents, the Riverbank Cemetery, the Hantsport Memorial Community Centre, and more.
Curry said many of the existing aboiteau structures in the province are managed by the Department of Agriculture. She said work has been done in Chignecto, Cumberland County and Kings County.
“When an aboiteau begins to fail, they replace it. In this particular case, the railroad came along (and now owns it),” said Curry.
“It’s come down to finger-pointing over who should fix it,” she said.
“We recognize that there are lots of different stakeholders and lots of different departments affected here, but at the end of the day, we all share the taxpayer rate and we ask the basic question, is it cheaper to spend $400,000 to fix the aboiteau with an engineered plan that already exists, or are we going to wait until we have a $7 million bridge to replace, five or six homes to expropriate, a cemetery to move and an access bridge off the 101?”
Curry said with every tide, the situation gets worse.
“We can’t wait for (the province to settle the matter in court). That process will be slow and in the meantime, billions of gallons of water are flowing in and out of the Minas Basin every tide. We can’t afford to wait anymore.”
Curry said her ideal scenario would be for the province to replace the aboiteau in the same location immediately, and deal with legal issues later.
“It’s not rocket science,” she said.
She added that residents in Hantsport, Mount Denson and beyond are also worried about emergency response times if any of the roads or bridges are compromised by the tidal water.
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The committee is also planning a public demonstration on Jan. 4 along the Highway 1 bridge during high tide, to highlight the community’s concern.
Members of the public are gathering at the Hantsport Baptist Church at 11:30 a.m. before heading to the bridge. RCMP will be on scene for traffic control.
Curry said it’s a way to bring more attention to the issue.
“We’re here, we’re not going to give up and we expect a clever and economical resolution to this,” she said. “This has been going on now for 15, 16 months and it’s not getting any better. We need this to get done.”
Signs, which read “Save Our Aboiteau” and “Province of Nova Scotia Please Help Us” now line the entrance to the community.
The signs are primarily placed on HMCC land.
Marla MacInnis, a media relations advisor with the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, said the Hantsport and Windsor Railway Company has applied through the Department of Environment for permits to repair the aboiteau.
“In the meantime, we continue to monitor provincial infrastructure in the area to ensure public safety,” MacInnis said.
There is a court date between the province and the railway company on Jan. 9. For legal reasons, MacInnis was not able to comment further on the issue.
Hantsport councillor and former mayor, Robbie Zwicker, said people are tired of waiting for the province to figure this out.
“People in Hantsport are pissed off with our provincial government’s inaction on the failed aboiteau,” Zwicker said. “Enough is enough.”
Zwicker said he’d like to see a temporary fix in place soon, perhaps a box culvert, allowing restricted tidal flow and fish passage.
“Fight about who pays after. Neither an expensive nor complex repair,” he added.
West Hants Warden Abraham Zebian took a similar tone, saying the municipal government is very concerned about the “dire situation” in Hantsport.
“With every high tide, more and more water flows through causing more soil erosion and damage,” Zebian said.
“Water levels constantly reach road level creating dangerous driving conditions especially now since winter is here,” he said.
“There is no more time to sit back and not act. The municipality and its residents in Hantsport need help from the province to fix this problem immediately and worry about who is responsible for the costs later through the court system. We need action, not finger-pointing.”