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EDITORIAL: Upgrade can’t be put off

How high’s the water papa…? As anyone who has dealt with flooding knows, the time to think about that is long before the water rises.

Considering the potential threat faced by Nova Scotia of one day becoming an island, discussion of ramifications and possible solutions can’t come soon enough.

Anyone with shoreline property has these thoughts at least in the back of their minds, but the entire province is up against an inevitable challenge.

Amherst Mayor David Kogon said this week that with forecasts of rising ocean waters in general – and on top of that consider the tide dynamics of the Bay of Fundy – the Isthmus of Chignecto is in danger of flooding in 15 to 20 years, even without a storm surge.

Kogon also directed attention to the role of the dikes that help hold back the water – built 275 years ago by Acadians for agricultural purposes – and the need to repair these structures.

Most Nova Scotians in travels to New Brunswick will be familiar with the terrain, the Tantramar Marshes on the isthmus, an area very close to sea level as it is. It’s also an important geographical feature with its saltwater marshes a stopover for migratory birds. Any kind of human intervention near such a setting represents a sensitive endeavour.

Development as it is now is relatively scant, but the main rail line and Trans-Canada Highway cross this low-lying area. As Kogon noted, any kind of flooding in the future would cut Nova Scotia off from the rest of Canada – affecting transport of goods and any typical travel. An estimated $50 million in trade goes through the area daily by highway and rail.

In an attempt to guard against the worst, Kogon suggests millions of dollars need to be spent on upgrades to the dikes.

Kogon, the warden of Cumberland County, and the mayor of Sackville, N.B., have sent a letter to provincial and federal infrastructure ministers requesting a meeting to discuss the issue. They describe the looming event as no longer a theoretical question – but more so a matter of how soon will it occur.

This inevitability of having to adapt to rising waters is something many around the province will have to face. But in this critical area, it potentially affects transport as well as other infrastructure, such as power transmission.

Some ideas about addressing the problem – for infrastructure and residents and farmland in the area – are already underway.

On the federal level, Infrastructure Canada has acknowledged the letter from the municipal leaders in the area. Spokeswoman Nadine Archambault-Chapleau noted Ottawa is creating a $2-billion Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund meant to address a number of needs across the country, such as floods, wildfires and damage due to drought.

We can see how there will be plenty of demand on that fund.

It shouldn’t take a whole lot of persuasion that the Chignecto Isthmus upgrades are a project that has to be tackled proactively – as opposed to reacting to a disaster. And “soon” being such a relative term, the word “immediately” springs to mind.

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