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Ottawa can pay half the cost of saving N.S.-N.B. land link from rising seas: LeBlanc

Last week, an engineering study was released that offered three options to raise 35 kilometres of dikes protecting the Chignecto Isthmus
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Infrastructure and Communities Minister Dominic LeBlanc rises during question period, Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021, in Ottawa. LeBlanc says Ottawa will consider paying at least half the cost of protecting the land link between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick against climate-related flooding. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

HALIFAX — The federal infrastructure minister says Ottawa will consider paying at least half the cost of protecting the land link between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick against climate-related flooding.

Dominic LeBlanc, who is also the MP for the New Brunswick riding of Beausejour, said in an interview today he thought Nova Scotia's transport minister was joking when she recently suggested Ottawa might pay the full cost of reinforcing the Chignecto Isthmus.

LeBlanc says he told the premiers of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick at a dinner Sunday evening that each province should each accept 25 per cent of the cost of the project and Ottawa would look at providing the remaining half under various programs.

Last week, an engineering study was released that offered three options to raise 35 kilometres of dikes protecting the Chignecto Isthmus at costs ranging from $189 million to $301 million.

LeBlanc said it's yet to be determined which programs might be brought into play to define Ottawa's share.

He added that it's first up to the provinces to choose one of the three options before them and propose it to his department.

"I told the premiers (Sunday night) that they should start to look at where they'll find 25 per cent each (of capital costs)," LeBlanc said.

However, LeBlanc said once the provinces present a project, he'll support a way to safeguard the Trans-Canada Highway, the CN rail line and communications structure — all located on the Chignecto Isthmus — from potential damage by major storms and flooding until 2100.

"I think we have an opportunity ... The provincial governments should see us as an active partner and an enthusiastic partner," he said.

The study released Friday 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.

The veteran New Brunswick politician's department oversees the national disaster mitigation fund, which is one of the programs from which the provinces could apply for funding. LeBlanc also notes that both provinces have unused funds available to them from bilateral programs through his department.

LeBlanc's riding borders the Nova Scotia boundary and includes the community of Sackville, N.B., and the minister says it's possible that the provinces could also apply for funding from his department to protect that community's wastewater system from climate-related risks.

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. That's assuming there aren't delays arising from environmental assessments, unexpected problems with building materials, archeological studies and consultations with First Nations.

Experts have for decades warned that the combination of high tides with a powerful storm up the Bay of Fundy could overwhelm aging dikes and flood large portions of Amherst, N.S., as well as neighbouring Sackville. Meanwhile, 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 due to the warming planet.

LeBlanc said his hope is that one of the three options would be chosen by the end of this year and the 10-year process of environmental assessments, studies and building could be underway by 2023.

"My view is we should proceed as expeditiously as we can," LeBlanc said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 21, 2021.

Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press

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