Province plans to bill railway company for Hantsport aboiteau repairs

Nova Scotia’s transportation minister says the province doesn’t intend to get stuck with the bill for repairing a broken aboiteau near Hantsport. 

But at the same time, a court matter over who’s responsible for the aboiteau in the Halfway River has been put off, and there’s no date scheduled for when the legal wrangling might resume.

“We would be seeking compensation as part of the overall contention that we have that the responsibility lies with the Windsor and Hantsport Railway Company,” Transportation Minister Lloyd Hines said in an interview Tuesday. 

On Friday, the province announced it would commit to making a temporary fix to the dam-type structure across the mouth of the river, which empties into the Minas Basin. The railway used to cross over the aboiteau, which kept seawater from coming upriver for decades before the structure failed in late 2017. 

Reports of damage

Since then, residents say erosion and saltwater flooding have damaged farms, a well and the riverbank near a cemetery and the local community centre.

Hines said provincial engineers are examining the site and have not yet chosen a contractor for the work.

He said he hasn’t been presented with any estimates on cost for either the temporary solution or a more permanent repair to the aboiteau.  

“We want to effect a long-term solution there,” Hines said. “And I guess once we get our feet wet, so to speak, on the temporary solution, that’ll give us an opportunity to make some strong forecasts about what a permanent solution would look like.” 

Ownership dispute

A year ago, the province handed a directive to Robert Schmidt, the owner of the Windsor and Hantsport Railway, ordering him to reinstate the aboiteau by July 2018. Schmidt sought a judicial review, asking a court to quash the order. 

Schmidt is also seeking a declaration from the court that his railway company has no responsibility for the aboiteau. In statements to the court, his lawyers argue the aboiteau was in the bed of the Halfway River — which is owned by the province — and so the responsibility for repairs should fall to the government.

The company was not immediately available for comment Tuesday. 

In mid-December, lawyers for the company told the court their client and the province were “engaged in discussion” and asked for the matter to be removed from the court’s schedule. That was done this week.

Hines said in a phone interview Tuesday he could not comment on those discussions and had yet to be briefed on the matter. 

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