The screech of a bald eagle, perched high in a tree overlooking the Halfway River in Hantsport, pierces the air, temporarily distracting visitors from the high tide waters flowing underneath the bridge, flooding once-fertile farm land.
A fix is coming for the failed aboiteau that, for decades, kept the tidal waters at bay.
Hantsport resident Bill Preston, a member of the Hantsport Aboiteau Action Group, has been lobbying the government to replace the aboiteau for more than a year.
With construction crews moving ground and gravel, primarily working at low tide, Preston is cautiously optimistic the issue will be addressed.
“They’re putting in two cement boxes — they’re culverts. They will not have any gates on them to control the flow of water. The water will be free-flowing, exactly the same as it was prior to the berm being washed out over top,” said Preston.
“It will certainly cut down on the amount of water coming in. It will narrow it down; the water will come in faster — but it shouldn’t, really, create the amount of erosion and flooding that we’re getting now,” he said.
By November 2017, the dyke sluice gate that restricted tidal flow at the mouth of the Halfway River gave way. Since that time, the tides have wreaked havoc, flooding once-fertile agricultural farm land with saltwater, eroding the nearby riverbanks and contaminating at least two wells.
Preston said he was told by a government representative that gates could be added in the future if the culvert doesn’t properly address the situation.
“It’ll be interesting to see what happens from there.”
In an email response, Marla MacInnis, the media relations advisor for Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal with the Province of Nova Scotia, confirmed work was underway to install the culverts.
“We are constructing two permanent, concrete box culverts on the site of the former Hantsport aboiteau. An earth berm will be rebuilt on top of the culverts. The intent of this work is to protect agricultural lands and public infrastructure and restore conditions to what they were prior to the failure of the structure in 2017. The new structure will also ensure fish passage,” she wrote.
MacInnis said work began in late February once permits were obtained from the Department of Environment.
“Excavation work is happening onsite now. We are moving as quickly as engineering, safety and tides will allow,” she said, noting the location is “proving to be more challenging than originally anticipated.”
When the work is expected to be completed is not yet known.
A press release issued by the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs on March 20 indicated they were pleased with the government’s consultation.
“As Rights holders, we have a unique voice and perspective that must be heard,” said Chief Sidney Peters, co-chair of the assembly and leader of the Glooscap Mi’kmaw Community, in a prepared statement.
“Our access to fish and traditional-use activities is extremely important and cannot be impacted by development. Nova Scotia’s initial plan for Halfway River certainly needed to be re-examined,” he said.
The press release indicated the initial plan to fix the Hantsport aboiteau area was “unacceptable” and that the assembly needed to ensure that a free-flowing culvert was installed at the Halfway River to prevent potential impact to fish and fish habitat.
“We are pleased to say that consultation with the Mi’kmaq led NSTIR to the plan that they have today,” Peters said.
MacInnis said the government is still pursuing legal action against the owner of the Windsor Hantsport Railway Company.
“This work does not mean the province is taking ownership of the Windsor Hantsport Railway Company’s failed aboiteau,” she wrote. “The legal process has been slow so we took action in recognition of the urgency of the issue in anticipation of spring high tide and runoff. We will continue to pursue the company to recover the cost of this work.”
Bob Schmidt, the owner of the railway line, could not be reached for comment as of press time.