Driving across the bridge at the Halfway River leading into Hantsport, it’s not unusual these days to see people sitting in their vehicles, keeping a watchful eye on the construction crews nearby.
After all, heavy equipment operators are busy putting the finishing touches on a repair that has been years in the making.
The Hantsport aboiteau, which failed in the fall of 2017, was a dike sluice gate structure that restricted tidal flow at the mouth of the Halfway River. As the aboiteau deteriorated and the earth berm washed away, it allowed for a twice-daily influx of saltwater, which caused severe flooding of fields, killing off a variety of trees and vegetation, and eroding riverbanks.
Interest in the provincial government’s repair at the site has remained steady since Hants West MLA Chuck Porter announced in January that the Liberals would intervene despite an ongoing court case with the owner of the Windsor Hantsport Railway Company, which the province says was responsible for the aboiteau’s upkeep.
Gary Andrea, a spokesman for Nova Scotia’s Department of Business, provided a brief update on the work on behalf of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal.
“The twin concrete box culverts have been installed and the remnants of the old timber aboiteau have been removed,” he wrote in an email.
“Construction of the earth berm is now underway and we anticipate the work to be completed by early July.”
Andrea said the project is on budget.
The existing project calls for culverts that allow water to flow freely between the Halfway River and the Avon River — at a reduced rate — as well as provide fish passage.
There have been concerns expressed in the community about the lack of gates on the culverts, however, Andrea says the gates “could be installed at a later date if required.”
Not everyone in the former town is sure the fix will actually work. It’s not replacing like with like.
Albert Tracey, a longtime resident of the area, is one of the concerned locals.
“If it will work, I say good. I'm happy. All I'm after here is results,” said Tracey.
“I don't care who gets the credit, who gets the blame, or whatever. Government is now doing what they feel is right, or at the behest of the engineers. But I don't believe it will work.”
Tracey remains skeptical, saying he believes flooding will still occur, and erosion will continue to rear its ugly head.
When the area was first settled, dikes were installed along the Halfway River but after the aboiteau was built, Tracey said the dikes were not maintained. After 100 years, they’re gone — and all the protection they provided went with them.
The amount of soil erosion to the area’s riverbanks will not right itself once the culverts are in place, he said.
The once fertile farmland that runs adjacent to the Halfway River will take years to repair, and the banks may never recover, he said.
“It'll be seven or eight to 10 years before they (the lands) are arable again because it takes that long to take the salinity out of the soil,” he said.
As for nearby homes, the Hantsport Memorial Community Centre grounds, and the historic Riverbank Cemetery — all of which are located close to the cliff’s edge, Tracey fears for their future.
“The argument is that once they stop this, it will stop erosion or stop killing the trees. But what has happened is the lower trees have been inundated with marsh mud,” said Tracey.
“Marsh mud itself does not kill the tree. What it does is it prevents air from getting down into the roots of the tree thereby killing the tree,” he continued.
“So, my opinion is that when those dead trees fall, which they will in time, they're going to take the stumps with them, thereby taking the root system that holds the soil in place,” he said.
While he’s hopeful the fix that’s underway will lessen the impact of the issue at hand, he’s still worried about the future ramifications.
Until construction at the site is finished and the workmanship is tested by the tidal waters, he, along with other concerned Hantsport and area residents, say they will continue to drive by, watching from afar and hoping for the best.
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- A blessing or a curse? Future of the Halfway River aboiteau remains up in the air
- Hantsport’s aboiteau not only railway’s problem to fix: owner
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