N.S., N.B. urged to apply for federal cash to protect land link from rising seas

Click to play video: 'Urgency in addressing Chignecto Isthmus and rising sea levels'
Urgency in addressing Chignecto Isthmus and rising sea levels
The mayor of Amherst, N.S. says he hopes work can move ahead as soon as safely possible to address climate threats to the vital land border between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Work to better prepare the Chignecto Isthmus will cost hundreds of millions of dollars. But the governments involved don’t appear to have come to a conclusion on the best way forward yet. Callum Smith reports – Jan 8, 2023

The federal infrastructure minister is urging Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to apply for about $150 million to protect the land link between their provinces from climate change-related flooding.

Dominic LeBlanc said he has written to Premier Blaine Higgs of New Brunswick and Premier Tim Houston of Nova Scotia to say money is available and the deadline to apply to the disaster mitigation fund is July 19.

“I said the most direct way to get a federal contribution would be through the disaster mitigation and adaptation fund, and urged them to pick an option from the study that was commissioned … and I would work with them to try and get it approved,” LeBlanc said in an interview on Monday.

Ottawa can pay up to half the $301-million potential cost to protect the Chignecto Isthmus — a stretch of land that connects Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, LeBlanc said.

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The two premiers, however, are saying talks are still underway on how much each government should pay.

Higgs recently told the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal that the federal government should consider funding the project the same way it funded the Confederation Bridge — which links his province to Prince Edward Island. That project was mostly paid for by Ottawa, the premier noted.

In an email, Higgs’ office also said, “We are in the early days of discussion with the federal government … However, given the importance of this project in connecting New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, we are evaluating similar interprovincial projects.”

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Meanwhile, Houston’s office wrote, “It’s going to take hundreds of millions of dollars to do this and we need to be creative. Discussions remain ongoing.”

LeBlanc pushed back against the notion that the federal government should pay for most of the project. The Confederation Bridge, he said, represents a particular case because P.E.I. had been promised year-round transportation to the mainland as one of its conditions for entering Confederation.

The federal minister — whose New Brunswick riding borders the Nova Scotia boundary — notes that while talks with the two provinces are “encouraging,” the next deadline for applying to the fund is firm.

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“This disaster mitigation and adaptation fund will organically be taken up with other projects, so time is a little bit of the essence in that there will likely be many more projects submitted than the total amount of funding available,” he said.

“I just want to ensure we don’t miss this window because it’s the most logical window to find a federal cost-sharing opportunity.”

Click to play video: 'Experts say ecological angle needs to be considered when trying to protect Chignecto Isthmus'
Experts say ecological angle needs to be considered when trying to protect Chignecto Isthmus

The isthmus project is aimed at finding a way to protect the Trans-Canada Highway, the CN rail line and communications infrastructure from potential damage by major storms and flooding until 2100. A study released last March says raising the height of the existing 35 kilometres of dikes would cost $200 million; building a new dike would cost $189 million; and raising the existing dikes and installing steel sheet pile walls in select locations would cost about $301 million.

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The engineering study estimates that once an option is chosen, it would take five years for construction to begin and the project wouldn’t be completed until 10 years after the start date. And that timeline assumes there aren’t delays from environmental assessments, unexpected problems with building materials, archeological studies or consultations with First Nations.

Experts have for decades warned that the combination of high tides with powerful storms up the Bay of Fundy could overwhelm aging dikes and flood large portions of Amherst, N.S., as well as neighbouring Sackville, N.B. As well, the sea level at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy has been rising at a rate of about 2.4 millimetres a year over the past century.

LeBlanc said that the provincial governments could also approach CN Rail — which owns the rail line on the isthmus — to ask it to participate in sharing some of their cost.

“I would think it would be reasonable for the provinces to approach a private partner like that and see if they want to make a contribution to securing their main line between the port of Halifax and Montreal,” he said.

CN spokesman Daniel Salvatore said in an email that the company is in talks with Nova Scotia’s provincial government about the project; he had no further comment.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 3, 2023.


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