A map showing Nova Scotia and New Brunswick with a circle showing the area between the two provinces containing the Isthmus.
Graphic: Chignecto Isthmus Climate Change Adaptation Engineering Feasibility Study

An engineering study looking at ways to protect the piece of land connecting New Brunswick and Nova Scotia suggests the top three options will cost between $189 million and $301 million.

The Chignecto Isthmus is a 21-kilometre wide stretch of land linking the two provinces and is the only land bridge connecting them. An estimated $35 billion worth of trade is conducted annually via this corridor between Amherst, NS and Sackville, NB.

Work on the Chignecto Isthmus Climate Change Adaptation Engineering Feasibility Study began in 2018, and the final report was released March 16. The study notes a combination of climate-induced rising sea levels and coastal subsidence is forecasted to threaten most Atlantic Canadian coastal infrastructure before the year 2100.

This means the Chignecto Isthmus dykes and the infrastructure they protect are at risk. The isthmus trade corridor includes the TransCanada Highway, CN Rail, 138 kV and 345kV electricity transmission lines, a wind farm, fibre optic cables, agricultural cropland activities, and other utilities.

“Situated in the Upper Bay of Fundy, the exposure of transportation infrastructure within the study Area to the tidal and climatic conditions leaves the Chignecto Isthmus particularly vulnerable to climatic change impacts given the Isthmus is only slightly above sea level,” the study’s authors note.

“Currently, there are areas of the Isthmus that are protected by these existing earthen dykes, without which, the Isthmus would be inundated by existing sea levels.”

The report’s authors recommend three options to preserve the national trade corridor: raising the existing dykes ($200.2 million); building new dykes ($189.2 million); and raising the existing dykes and installing steel sheet pile walls at select locations ($300.8 million).

On Friday afternoon, New Brunswick Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Jill Green and Nova Scotia Public Works Minister Kim Masland met virtually with reporters to discuss the study and the three selected options.

“As we get into more detailed engineering and we begin to get deep into the environmental assessments, the archaeological assessments, the consultation with rights holders and stakeholders … how we proceed may dictate itself,” Green told reporters.

“I could easily see maybe a hybrid of the three options that will work best when we get a little bit further down the road.”

Masland described the isthmus as the only link between the Port of Halifax and inland North America, noting the value of goods and services and utilities flowing through the area made its protection critical.

The study suggests construction would begin five years after an option is chosen, with completion of the project taking place in 10 years.

“The climate science analysis indicates that the current infrastructure would be resilient to projected climate change/climate change hazards going into the future, excepting if we were to have weather events whose occurrence and intensity are very difficult to predict,” Masland told reporters.

“Between Nova Scotia Public Works and New Brunswick Department of Transportation (Infrastructure), Minister Green and I, we recognize the importance of implementing this project on an expedited basis, and that’s how we’re going to move forward.”

The provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick will explore all three options (including funding) in collaboration with the federal government.

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Yvette d’Entremont is a bilingual (English/French) journalist and editor who enjoys covering health, science, research, and education.

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1 Comment

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  1. I find lots of troubling things about this study: the major one being that no consideration seems to be given to moving ALL the infrastructure inland to the highest point on the isthmus, and perhaps even building it as a raised highway (think highway to Florida Keys, or bridge to PEI). Because eventually that is almost certainly what is going to be needed. Also troubling: the time span before construction is to be started, AND that line about it being adequate UNLESS we get major events…duh! Think Saxby Gale, another one due any hurricane season now, and climate change will produce more and bigger ‘events’. No one seems to be saying how little of our daily needs are produced within Nova Scotia: ask the grocery suppliers how soon we would run out of most food stuffs in the event of a breach of the rail and road lines!.