The latest storm to hit the province and cause widespread flooding prompted reporters to ask Premier Tim Houston when the government intends to introduce regulations that would implement the Coastal Protection Act, which was passed four years ago.
The regulations would prescribe how close to the coast and to flood plains new homes and businesses could be built. Two rounds of public consultations have already taken place and Environment Minister Tim Halman, who was out of town attending a ministerial conference, has twice postponed introducing them. In May, Halman suggested a public education campaign would be launched to improve compliance with the new rules. On Thursday, Houston said implementation of the act passed in 2019 “would move forward with more consultations.”
“I personally don’t think this should be a one-size fits all, so it’s important to have those consultations with communities around the province,” Houston said. “There are municipal planning and zoning processes, so to suggest that legislation is the only way to do this is something I don’t agree with.”
NDP leader Claudia Chender said she is mystified about why the Houston government is stalling on implementing legislation that all political parties supported in 2019.
“It defies logic that given the premier says climate change is real — and that we are facing increasing examples of its impact on our province — that we wouldn’t act in every possible way,” Chender said. “I think the premier’s comments offer a clear indication. He’s concerned that private property owners won’t have access to the coast in whatever manner they want… Nova Scotians enjoy their coast, yes, but we need to protect it on their behalf. That takes leadership and I think the government is abdicating that responsibility.”
Damage to roads, bridges in the tens of millions of dollars
Public Works Minister Kim Masland said she’s optimistic the 10,000 vehicles a day that rely on Highway 103 to the South Shore will soon not have to take a lengthy detour along Trunk 3 after floods washed out the Goat Lake bridge.
“My fear was the bridge would have to come down. It was built in the 1970s. It’s 60 metres long and 20 feet high. It would have taken months to replace. But the engineers now believe we can go in and support the bridge and fix it,” Masland said. “We may even possibly see it reopen with one lane within the next couple of days. That would relieve some of the truck traffic on Trunk 3.”
Masland said since last Saturday, crews from Public Works as well as 40 private companies, have been working around the clock to repair washed out secondary roads and bridges. Out of the 60 Nova Scotia roads that were closed on Saturday after the flooding, 40 have since reopened.
“We haven’t fully assessed all the damage yet. In some places in Lunenburg County, we still have rivers where we had roads,” she said.
The ballpark estimate for damage? “We are in the tens of millions of dollars,” Masland replied.
Masland was asked if the latest environmental disaster to befall the province would change the way the province goes about building new infrastructure, such as roads and the seven bridges that were wiped out.
“We build according to Transportation Association of Canada guidelines. But I can tell you since I became Public Works minister, every project in this province is being built through a climate change lens,” Masland said. “So, our bridges are being built higher and we are putting in larger culverts in many areas to handle that larger water flow.”
John Lohr, the minister responsible for the province’s Emergency Management Operations (EMO), was asked why it took until about 10pm on Friday night for the province to issue an Emergency Alert in HRM — even though streets in Bedford and Sackville had been flooded and vehicles abandoned. Lohr said the Provincial Coordination Centre, which issues the cell phone alert, usually responds to requests from municipalities themselves. In this case, HRM EMO is just down the hall from the provincial office. Lohr didn’t know exactly when that request arrived from HRM.
“In the context of what was an extraordinarily confusing situation, I think all the emergency service providers did an outstanding job dealing with what was an unprecedented event. I’m satisfied we turned the request around as quickly as we could,” Lohr said.
The Examiner asked Lohr why, given the rain falling on Friday night and a low tide opportunity at 10:55pm to open the gates of the Windsor aboiteau to reduce the height of the Avon River, did he wait until 5:30am Saturday?
“We were watching that aboiteau and Lake Pisiquid very closely on Saturday afternoon. There was just an unprecedented amount of rain that fell in that area and the system functioned admirably. Previous to that, I was looking at the weather forecast Friday. We had issued an emergency alert that didn’t include Hants County. In fact, there was only a small piece of Nova Scotia that was expected to receive 200 millimetres of rain. We know the central part of the province received far, far more than that. So, the forecast was not indicative of taking those steps [opening the aboiteau gates Friday night], I think.”
The rainfall warning issued by Environment Canada for Friday evening called for “40-90 mm of rain in mainland Nova Scotia counties and Cape Breton.” That was indeed much less than what fell. However, the special weather statement also warned “the tropical nature of the moisture feeding the system could give heavy downpours and locally higher amounts which could cause flash floods.”
Lohr’s explanations didn’t impress Bedford-South MLA Braedon Clark, who was pinch-hitting for Liberal leader Zach Churchill. Clark said he’s weary of hearing Emergency Measures Minister John Lohr describe wildfires in May and the floods last weekend as “unprecedented” events. Clark said it’s obvious given Nova Scotia’s experience with storms and ongoing climate change there will be more of these “unprecedented” events. Clark said the minimum service people should expect from their government is to be notified quickly — and effectively — when disaster strikes. Clark said people also deserve to know where they can go to find information about assistance and services the day after being flooded, evacuated, or burned out.
The mayor of West Hants Regional Municipality has also pleaded with the premier as recently as this week to improve cell phone coverage for people living in the town of Windsor and in communities along Highway 101. Because of poor cellular coverage, Mayor Abraham Zebian said many residents never received the emergency alert warning them they were in danger from rising rivers and flooded fields.
“Cellular coverage remains an issue in the province,” Houston said. “It’s something I’m concerned about and I’m certainly not happy with the progress to ensure there is coverage across the province. I’ve had significant discussion with the team at Develop Nova Scotia about what can be done about that. The discussion around emergency alerts is one that will continue to evolve as soon as we get through these floods.”