1. Halfway River aboiteau

Part of the aboiteau, construction material and rail line remain within the crossing (breach) location, in February 2018. Photo: CBWES Inc.

In 2017, the Halfway River aboiteau collapsed.

The aboiteau was essentially a dike or dam that at low tide allowed water to flow out to the Bay of Fundy but restricted the flow of water back into the river at high tide.

It was an ancient construction — I haven’t been able to discover the full history of it this morning, but a predecessor version of the aboiteau may date back to the Acadians. The particular aboiteau that failed two years ago was built in the late 19th or early 20th century, when the Windsor and Hantsport Railway line was placed atop it.

As a result of the aboiteau, the River changed from a saltwater tidal river that would flood into marshes to a freshwater river with stable banks, and the associated wetlands of the former saltwater tributary were “reclaimed” as agricultural land. This was a significant change for wildlife, especially the saltwater fish that once spawned in the marshes.

With the collapse of the aboiteau, the river began to revert to its former marshy self. But because the river had been restricted at its mouth, the increased flows led to significant erosion along the bluffs that lined the river.

Residents soon complained about the “mess” that appeared when the river took down the trees and left mudflats: “The wasteland you see out on the dyke [sic] is disgusting, it’s a horrible entrance to the community,” Hantsport councillor Robbie Zwicker told Hants Journal reporter Hantsport Community Centre, a sports field, and a graveyard, and they expressed concern that the Highway 1 bridge was threatened.

Hundreds of people took part in a march demanding that the aboiteau be repaired, chanting “Save the aboiteau, stop the flow.”

In February, the province responded to the political pressure by announcing it would replace the aboiteau with “two permanent concrete box culverts. An earth berm will be rebuilt on top of the culverts”:

The new culverts will be the diameter of the culverts which operated successfully in the past. The flow of water is expected to be the same as it was before the aboiteau failed.

The province engaged in consultation with the Mi’kmaw community and received environmental approvals from the Department of Environment.

The project cost $4 million, which the province “hopes” will be recovered from the Windsor and Hantsport Railway Company.

The idea was that saltwater would continue to flow into the river but only at the reduced flow, limiting flooding.

But the new structure is already failing.

In a letter to Twila Gaudet, the director of consultation at the Kwilmu’kw Wak’klusuaqn Negotiations Office (the local First Nations), Amjad Memon, the provincial engineer overseeing the culvert project, said that on Sunday, August 9, the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal (TIR) “was advised to what appears to be settlement occurring around both the culvert structure and the embankment.” He continued:

To prevent further erosion from occurring, we will be working to stabilize this infrastructure over the next few weeks. To perform the required work, TIR is looking to install temporary gates at the Minas Basin end of the culvert to keep the tide out while contractors perform the work. We are therefore notifying you to advise that the installation of the gates will impede the free flow of water, which is outside the original scope of our project. This work is scheduled to start later this week and should take approximately 6–8 weeks to complete. The gates are expected to come off when the repairs are complete.

The letter does not say how much the additional work will cost, nor does it spell out how closure of the river will affect wildlife and fish upstream.

Looked at one way, this is simply a necessary emergency repair job on a needed infrastructure project.

Looked at another way, however, none of this was necessary.

Darren Porter points me to what he calls a “secret” study produced in November 2018 for the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal. Titled “A River in Transition – the Restoration of the Halfway River and its Tidal Wetlands,” the study was conducted by CBWES Inc., a “habitat restoration and environmental research firm.”

Porter says he doesn’t think the study was provided to the First Nations during the consultation about the Halfway River aboiteau, and it hasn’t been publicized before today.

The study found that the best way to reduce erosion upstream from the aboiteau was to remove the structure entirely and open up the mouth of the river. Its summary conclusion reads:

If the system is to remain open, it is recommended that consideration be given to the removal of the remaining aboiteau infrastructure from the breach and the stabilization/restoration of the mouth of the river. The clean up and restoration of the mouth of river would eliminate the continued influence of the structure on tidal flow and fish passage, allow for the fully naturalized movement of water and species into and out of the system, improve public safety and re-establish safe navigation. This would also reduce the velocity of water moving through the opening which would reduce the risk of erosion, particularly to vulnerable areas, immediately upstream and down.

The study also notes that many of the problems noted by residents either aren’t actually problems or aren’t the result of the failed aboiteau.

The unsightly mudflats, for instance, are a temporary condition as the former freshwater plant species die off. Reads the study:

The resulting mudflat is quickly being colonized by range of salt marsh and tidal wetland plant species which have been observed to be thriving throughout the marsh. Based on experience with intentional tidal wetland restoration projects elsewhere in the Minas Basin, these plants will continue to increase in abundance, diversity and extent over the next several years to the point that the majority of the marsh surface will be re-vegetated within 3-5 years.

Erosion on the bluffs predates the failure of the aboiteau, and in any event the bluffs can be stabilized by the introduction of native species.

Porter is beyond angry about the whole thing. “Everyone knows, even a child knows, if you put your finger over a garden hose, the pressure builds up and the water shoots out fast and far,” he explains in an email. “All they had to do was let it [the river mouth] be, and possibly widen the river to let that water flow slower. Simple children’s science and that’s what their experts stated.

“Now after only a little over a month [after the culvert was constructed], many millions of dollars spent, the damage that is being caused is far worse now than the two years non-damage of full tidal flow.”

So why did the province embark on an apparently unneeded $4 million construction project that soon failed and will cost untold more dollars to repair and maintain, when it could have spent much less and simply restored the historic wide river mouth?

“Because it’s easier to create a ‘crisis’ (the deputy minister told Hantsport residents in a public meeting it was a natural disaster) and jump in and save the people to get them on your side, than to actually educate and do the right thing,” writes Porter. “And it worked for them, but now we pay, the fish pay, the environment pays…”

2. Cabot Links airport

Ben Cowan-Dewar

“Months before an application would even be submitted, Infrastructure’s Canada’s deputy minister directed staff to shop around for a program under which the federal government could fund an airport for Cabot Links,” reports

A Chronicle Herald access to information request for internal government emails shows a high-level push to find a way for taxpayers to build an airport long sought after by a private company on the outskirts of Inverness.

On April 5 the Cape Breton Island Airport Community Interest Company was registered with the province.

Its president was listed as Ben Cowan-Dewar, co-owner of the Cabot Links golf course.

Though Infrastructure Canada wouldn’t receive a proposal for the airport until June, four days after Cowan-Dewar registered Cape Breton Island Community Interest Company, the federal department’s top bureaucrat emailed staff at 6:25 p.m. about finding a way to fund it.

“Hi, the airport that keeps coming back in Cape Breton – thought it was eligible under (New Building Canada Fund) – it is also eligible under (Infrastructure Bilateral Agreements)?” Kelly Gillis, the department’s deputy minister wrote.

The department’s director, Syed Fariya, replied an hour later, “I’m not sure what airport this is referring to. I don’t recall an airport business case in Cape Breton…”

The article is worth reading in full. It’s solid access-to-information reporting.

3. Culture of secrecy

Catherine Tully. Photo: Halifax Examiner

“Nova Scotia’s outgoing privacy commissioner says a recent review that shows the Energy Department took almost five years to complete a freedom of information request and even then withheld too much information is ‘extraordinary,’” reports Michael Gorman for the CBC:

“They violated almost every provision of [the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act],” Catherine Tully said in an interview.

“In my 20 years, this would be certainly on the extreme end of failure to comply with the law.”

You can read Tully’s report here. Its summary:

The applicant has been waiting almost five years for an open, accurate and complete response to his access to information request. The responses he received thus far have convinced the applicant that the Department of Energy and Mines is actively hiding information and is using the access to information process not to promote transparency but rather to thwart his right to know. The Commissioner finds that the Department’s responses so far have included excessive fees, numerous unauthorized time delays, over-severing unsupported by any evidence and a failure to process clearly responsive documents. The Commissioner recommends that the Department reprocess the entire access to information request with few if any allowable exemptions. The Commissioner further recommends that the Department refund the applicant’s fee.

There are some underlying issues here that look interesting. If the unnamed applicant wants to drop me a line, I’d follow up.

And that applicant has a sense of humour;

In response to the October 16, 2014 letter, the applicant provided a sarcastic dictionary definition of each of the original words of his original request.

4. Chicken and rats

The Lot BBQ, which operated in the parking lot of the Halifax Forum, was shut down by the food safety inspector for lack of proper permitting, reports Arthur Gaudreau for his Chronicle Herald column. Gaudreau interviews owner Greg Buckley about the permitting issue.

This inspired me to look at other restaurants recently closed by the food safety inspector, and the restaurant that jumped out was the Iron Rooster on Barrington Street in Halifax.

Iron Rooster has had a “vermin” issue since August 23, 2018, soon after it opened, and the inspector has issued 36 notices to comply, two warnings, and two closure orders during 16 separate inspection visits in under a year.

The closure orders came on February 26 and July 18 of this year. Both involved vermin, which were identified as rats in the July visit, although there were lots of other issues noted during both visits, including a dirty kitchen, lack of maintenance, and workers without health permits, to name a few.

Rats are a fact of life in a port city, but clearly the Iron Rooster hadn’t been doing enough to stay atop the battle.


No public meetings this week.

On campus



Thesis Defence, Mechanical Engineering (Tuesday, 9am, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building) — PhD candidate Davide De Cicco will defend “In-Depth Understanding of the Stability Response of a Novel 3d Fiber-Metal Laminate under Axial Impact Loading.​”

Thesis Defence, Biomedical Engineering (Tuesday, 9:30am, Room 430, Goldberg Computer Science Building) — PhD candidate David Adam Quirk will defend “Trunk Muscle Activation Patterns Adapt to Deficits in Individual Spinal Systems.​”

 Thesis Defence, Physiology and Biophysics (Tuesday, 1:30pm, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building) — PhD candidate Diogo Da Rocha Poroca will defend “Phosphorylation-Dependent Changes in the R-Region Interactions Contribute to Regulation of the CFTR Chloride Channel.”​

Bring your own R-Region.

Thesis Defence, Biology (Tuesday, 2pm, Room 430, Goldberg Computer Science Building ) — PhD candidate Manuel Dureuil will defend “Evaluating Vital Components of Elasmobranch Assessment a​nd Spatial Conservation.​”


Thesis Defence, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (Wednesday, 9:30am, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building) — PhD candidate Kenneth d’Souza will defend “Autotaxin is Nutritionally Regulated and Alters Mitochondrial Function in Obesity-Induced Insulin Resistance.​”

Thesis Defence, Mathematics and Statistics (Wednesday, 10am, Room 430, Goldberg Computer Science Building) — PhD candidate Christopher T. Jones will defend “On Models for Detecting Evidence of Molecular Adaptation in Homologous Sequences of Protein Coding Genes.​”

Thesis Defence, Biology (Wednesday, 1:30pm, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building) — PhD candidate Gaye MacDonald will defend “The Nature and Dynamics of Changes in Lipids and Fatty Acids During Postharvest Needle Abscission, Their Role in Cold Acclimation, Ultra-Structural Changes, and Needle Abscission Resistance in Balsam Fir, Abies Balsamea, L​.”

Mitochondrial (de)acetylomic control of brown adipose tissue (BAT), and other “hot topics” in BAT thermogenesis (Wednesday, 4pm, Theatre A, Tupper Medical Building) — Mary-Ellen Harper from the University of Ottawa will talk.

In the harbour

09:30: Okeanos Explorer, research/survey vessel, arrives at Dartmouth Cove from Davisville, Rhode Island
09:30: HalTerm Crib (the next section of the HalTerm expansion) moves from Pier 9 to Pier 42, with Sandra Mary, tug
13:00: Julius-S, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for New York
19:00: CSL Tacoma, bulker, arrives at National Gypsum from Wilmington, North Carolina


The day after vacation is always a bear.

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  1. Would somebody somewhere please put an end to the ridiculous idea of an airport for a private golf course. There is no possible rationale for it which has been made abundantly clear by all authoritative information sources.

  2. the other part of the aboiteau story is the provinces fight with the railway. though the railway had tracks over it, there is a law that says the province is responsible for all aboiteaus.

    the province wanted the railway to fix it – and they basically said the law says its the provinces responsibility.

  3. A dyke blocks water from incoming tides allowing marshes to become arable land an aboiteau allows for the water to drain from the marsh and prevents new tidal water from reflooding it.

    4 miilion dollars, wow, we throw numbers around and rarely explain how exactly it is spend. Is there a break down of who got all that money?