HANTSPORT, N.S. — It was a heated meeting — and not only because it was pushing 40 C outside the Hantsport Baptist Church.
Months after an aboiteau structure at the Halfway River collapsed, residents from the community and surrounding area came to a meeting at the church to hear from provincial government representatives and ask questions about what’s being done to address the issue.
Many of those who attended said they left unsatisfied and frustrated.
Representatives from the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure (TIR) told those gathered that there’s very little the province can do in the short term other than raising the roads and bridge at Highway 1.
In disbelief, one person looked at Paul LaFleche, the TIR deputy minister, and asked him to take her concerns seriously.
In response, the deputy minister got out a notebook and started writing items down, asking people what they want, point by point.
The audience roared in frustration.
While speaking to TIR staff, residents said their Number 1 priority is doing something to stop the tidal flow, with increasing concerns about erosion along the Halfway River’s banks, including near the Hantsport Memorial Community Centre and Riverbank Cemetery.
Many implored the province to fix or replace the aboiteau in order to stem the tide.
LaFleche told those gathered that the province can’t fix the aboiteau as it’s located on private property belonging to the Windsor and Hantsport Railway. It’s one of four aboiteaus not controlled by the Department of Agriculture.
“I have found many of your actions and your words to be flippant and dismissive, disrespectful,” one member of the audience said. “Replacement of the aboiteau is the fastest solution to this. The message we want to leave you with is replace the aboiteau. Now.”
Responding to comments that he was being dismissive and condescending, LaFleche said he’s just as frustrated as the residents. The province is preparing to take Bob Schmidt and the Windsor Hantsport Railway Company that he owns and operates to court over the issue.
“I agree with everything you guys are saying, but I have to wait for a judge,” LaFleche said. “I can’t believe anyone is more frustrated with this file than me. Since this started, I’ve wanted to throw the book at Mr. Schmidt, and every time, a lawyer… is telling me why I can’t do anything about it.”
He added: “I’m really unhappy with what’s happening here.”
The court date is scheduled for early September, but if Schmidt gets a stay in the process, it likely won’t resume until December, LaFleche said.
Road plan drawn up
Mark Peachey, the district director of TIR, said the province has already drawn up plans to raise the bridge along Highway 1 and some of the surrounding roads to compensate for the increased water levels.
“We’ve been monitoring the bridge, as there was a lot of concern in the winter time when we had the super tides,” he said. “We did have structural concerns.”
He added that if the bridge collapsed suddenly, the province does have a temporary bridge that could be deployed relatively quickly.
Many of the residents said they don’t want to see the roads raised, adding that they would rather see the aboiteau fixed.
“That’s private property, and we can’t go on private property,” he said.
Near the end of the meeting, LaFleche said he would bring the concerns forward to relevant staff and other provincial departments, returning to the community on Sept. 10 at 6:30 p.m. to bring back more answers.