‘I’m feeling a little defeated’: Frustrations mount in Hantsport over broken aboiteau

Frustrations around the lack of repairs to the damaged aboiteau in Hantsport, N.S., continue to grow and some residents say it’s putting their health and their homes at risk.

Evan Merks lives next to the old aboiteau site and had to install a $6,000 filtration system in his home after saltwater contaminated his well nearly a year ago.

“I really wasn’t all that surprised considering the amount of water that comes in here now,” said Merks. “I was a little surprised at how quick it happened. but I also knew that with the aboiteau gone it was only a matter of time.”

David Merks had to install this filtration system to try and combat salt water in his well. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

The problems with his well came after a storm surge late last year ripped the old dike system apart. Now nothing is stopping the flow of tide water into the Halfway River.

Merks’s home is the closest property to the old aboiteau. He said he and his girlfriend, Courtney Shay, could have become sick due to his well water being contaminated.

This is what the old Hantsport aboiteau now looks like at high tide. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

They’ve moved temporarily into another property next door. As a precaution, they bring in water to run that household all because the damage at the aboiteau is causing the river to flood twice a day at high tide.

It’s now a common occurrence for salt water to flow over the banks of the river.

“I’m feeling a little defeated because we’ve reached out to the government and there hasn’t been any assistance,” said Merks.

The aboiteau was designed to limit salt water from entering upstream at high tide, but it was washed out in a storm in late 2017. The gap has now grown to about 25 metres.

Some of the graves in Riverbank Cemetery could fall into the Halfway River if the riverbank continues to erode. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Ever since the breached there have been concerns that heavy tides will erode away the land around the bridge that leads into the town of Hantsport. Parts of the river bank near a community centre and a cemetery have already begun washing away.

“The high tides come in and the salt water comes right up to the bottom of our bank,” said resident Tom Thompson. “It’s not far from our house and our property and the salt water has already killed the trees down on the little plateau below us.”

Tom Thompson stands in his backyard overlooking the Halfway River in Hantsport. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Thompson says the aboiteau should have been fixed long ago. He said it has contributed to the decline in the value of his property.

“In a few years my house may be down there in the river if I don’t move it,” said Thompson. “I’ve talked to real estate people and they’ve told us we couldn’t sell it if we wanted to.”

Meanwhile, the land around the meandering river is continuing to be ravaged by salt water.

Trees along the river bank are dying and farm fields that border the river are turning into swamps. Because those fields are filling in with salt water twice a day, crops can no longer be grown.

Fields can’t be used for pasture land

With the fields being so sloppy they can’t be used for pasture land.

“We have 25 acres down there and we haven’t been able to do anything with it,” said Carl teBogt, who operates a farm in Mount Denson. “The water just keeps coming in and out and right now it’s just a quagmire full of mud and if somebody doesn’t fix the aboiteau that land will be pretty much useless.”

Just who is responsible for the aboiteau is still up in the air.

The provincial government has ordered the Windsor and Hantsport Railway company to make the repairs but the company is fighting that order in court. The old aboiteau used to sit under railway tracks which the company recently removed.

The municipal government said something needs to be done as quickly as possible.

“It’s really gotten a lot worse in the last six months and I don’t think we have another year before really bad things start happening,” said Abraham Zebian, the warden for the Municipality of West Hants.

Fields near the Halfway River have gone from farm land to swamp land. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

The owner of the railway has said the province should make the fixes. A decision is expected to be made next month as the railway owner and the province go to court Jan. 9.

“Court cases can go on for multiple years and I could be retired and in a nursing home by the time this gets resolved,” said Zebian.

“The municipality would like to see the problem fixed today and then they can fight about it later on.”

The warden said he supports an upcoming protest in the community. On Jan. 4, the bridge leading into Hantsport will be shut down for one hour at high tide as residents try to bring attention to the issue.

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