HANTSPORT, N.S. — Residents and councillors fear Hantsport’s Halfway River bridge may give way if something isn’t done soon to address the nearby failing aboiteau.
Since September 2017, Bill Preston has been keeping an eye on the aboiteau and watching the tides slowly, but surely, erode the banks of the Halfway River.
“This can't be ignored,” said Preston.
“When you drive by, of course you can see the big gaping hole now because of the way the water has come through,” he said.
The gaping hole he’s describing is what remains after the soil around the aboiteau structure crumbled away. The railway tracks, which aren’t used anymore other than by private individuals, hang precariously above.
“Eventually, it's going to have some sort of effect on our bridge because that tide is creeping higher and higher. It's creating erosion on the bank that's on the back end of HMCC. There are trees coming down. There's the erosion there; there's going to be erosion underneath the bridge,” said Preston.
The aboiteau’s purpose was to allow water out at low tide but block excessive water from entering at high tide. Considering the amount of damage done, residents say more tidal water is entering the system than ever before.
How to prevent the bridge from failing is now the topic du jour not only for area residents but West Hants councillors and staff, as well as provincial government officials.
Deputy Warden Paul Morton and fellow councillor and Hantsport resident Robbie Zwicker, both expressed their concern at the Jan. 9 council meeting.
Morton said he’s been watching the progression since the erosion was first spotted Sept. 14, 2017. To gauge the impact, he stopped by the bridge during the winter storm on Jan. 4, 2018.
“The ice was hitting the bottom of the bridge as it was going by at a great speed,” said Morton, expressing concern over Hantsport potentially losing access to the main way into the former town.
Using a white board and marker, Zwicker illustrated how the aboiteau has changed drastically so that fellow councillors could better understand the situation.
“It's all open, the tracks are hanging,” said Zwicker.
And with every tide, more erosion occurs.
“It's a giant hole in the dyke. Basically you're going to get free tidal flow in no time and the bridge in Hantsport is at risk because now (for) every tide, a tremendously larger amount of water is going back and forth.”
Monitoring the situation
Marla MacInnis, a media relations advisor with the Province of Nova Scotia, said the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal is aware of — and monitoring — the situation.
“The Hantsport aboideau is privately owned. Maintenance and repair of the structure are the responsibility of the landowner,” said MacInnis in email correspondence.
“Representatives of the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, the municipality, as well as local business officials have all been on site and witnessed the damage first hand,” she said.
“Major erosion has caused the bank to completely wash away. The timber box culvert system that forms the aboideau structure has experienced extensive damage.”
While the department is monitoring the bridge for any impact from the failed aboiteau, and the municipality has put up barricades (which were no longer standing Jan. 11) to prevent people from accessing the site, how — and when — repairs will be made have not been announced.
West Hants councillors were, however, encouraged Jan. 9 to not only visit the site to witness the impact firsthand, but to contact Hants West MLA Chuck Porter and the provincial ministers of TIR and Agriculture to express their concerns.
“The fact is, the bridge itself is in need of some work and that is TIR's responsibility, said Cathie Osborne, who was the municipality’s chief administrative officer until having her contract abruptly terminated later that night.
“Whether the aboiteau is standing there or not, they know they have an issue. They have an issue at high tide, the spring tides, runoff. We're working with them and trying to exert whatever pressure we can from our perspective but certainly any additional support from councillors is appreciated,” she said.
Brad Carrigan, the director of public works for West Hants, said this isn’t a new issue, but one that has been developing over time.
“The failure in the aboiteau happened years before that and it's been decaying slowly over time,” said Carrigan. “With the failure that was noticed on (Sept.) 14th, it's been exponentially increasing to the point where maybe not even half of the aboiteau is there — maybe a third of it.”
Preston said he hopes the municipality and province will heed the fears being expressed and take a proactive approach instead of waiting for a catastrophic event.
“How in the devil are they going to stop it? It's not like you can close the door and stop the water. It would have to be done at low tide. It's really a mess,” said Preston.
“There's not enough information being put out, I don't think, by the municipality, in regards to keeping people informed of what's going on. It's fine to say ‘we're having talks’ but you never hear anything after that.”
Preston said he wants to hear concrete plans instead of elected officials passing the buck.
It’s a sentiment that Coun. Rupert Jannasch also expressed Jan. 9.
“I'm seeing a very common theme here when we're looking at coastal erosion,” Jannasch said, noting that issues from Hantsport, Cheverie causeway and along the south shore need to be addressed.
“Something has to be changed. This is going to be a reoccurring problem as we move on into the future,” he said.
“We need to spearhead some sort of initiative so that we have a better mechanism in place for dealing with these issues that are going to come up again and again. I would like to see that we push for some sort of action through the UNSM so that different levels of government cannot continue to avoid taking responsibility for issues such as the one taking place in Hantsport.”