Media Releases

Amherst calls on federal, provincial governments to protect Isthmus of Chignecto

Mayor David Kogon, on behalf of the Amherst town council, has sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston and New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs that calls on those three governments to begin the work to protect the vital transportation links on the Isthmus of Chignecto from rising sea levels caused by climate change and extreme weather events no later than the end of 2023.

On hand to watch the mayor sign the letter was Sackville, N.B. Mayor Shawn Mesheau. Both communities have worked in unison in recent years to bring the issue before the three higher levels of government.

The letter

Oct. 26, 2022Mayors Isthmus of Chignecto B

David Kogon, MD
Mayor
Town of Amherst
Box 516
98 Victoria St. E.
Amherst, NS B4H 4A1

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
80 Wellington St.
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2

Premier Tim Houston
Office of the Premier
7th Floor
One Government Place
1700 Granville St.
Halifax, NS B3J 1X5

Premier Blaine Higgs
Chancery Place
Box 6000
Fredericton, NB E3B 5H1

Re: Protection of vital transportation links on the Isthmus of Chignecto

Gentlemen,

In recent weeks, we have witnessed the devastation caused by an extreme weather event.

Post-tropical storm Fiona cut a swath of destruction affecting Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfound and Labrador. It uprooted trees, cut power lines causing extremely lengthy power outages, crushed cars, damaged roads and homes, some of which were washed out to sea, and caused death.

In an article published on Oct. 19, 2022, the Globe and Mail reported insurers saying Fiona was the costliest extreme weather event ever recorded in Atlantic Canada and among the top 10 in Canada. They estimated insurers will pay out about $660 million in claims due to the storm. They also estimated more than half of the damages ($385 million) occurred in Nova Scotia.

While we here in the Amherst area fared better than our fellow Nova Scotians in Pictou County and Cape Breton, we did experience more destruction from a storm than we have in decades. Still, we firmly believe it could have been much worse, that we dodged a bullet.

We were quite fortunate Fiona struck at a low tide. We shudder to think what destruction would have occurred if the storm had hit during a high tide.

We shudder because there is an historical storm that gives us some idea of the devastation that could have happened. That storm was the Saxby Gale, which hit the Tantramar region overnight on Oct. 4, 1869. It occurred at a high tide. It breached dikes, sunk ships, caused deaths and massive destruction to communities in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

If Fiona had hit at a similar high tide, we are confident in saying insurers would have been paying out much more than $660 million.

We can say that with confidence because several studies over the years, which are in the possession of your governments, have indicated the Isthmus of Chignecto would almost disappear during an extreme weather event if the dikes were breached. The flooding would be so extensive, large portions of Amherst, N.S., and Sackville, N.B. would also be under water.

If that were to happen, those same studies clearly identify the vital transportation links – the railroad and Trans Canada Highway – that connect Nova Scotia would be impassible if not completely destroyed as a result of the flooding. Those same studies show the chances of that happening are increasing due to climate change that is raising the level of the oceans and increasing the number of severe weather events.

Those same studies indicate $50-million worth of commercial goods cross the Isthmus of Chignecto on those transportation links on a daily basis. Can you imagine the devastation that would occur to our businesses and citizens, if those vital transportation links were cut? We can. The closure of the border between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick during the recent COVID-19 pandemic to all but essential traffic gave us some idea. We wouldn’t want to see the economic impact we would experience if the highway and railway were lost. What we experienced during the pandemic was bad enough.

If these vital transportation links were cut, it just wouldn’t be the communities on both sides of the Isthmus that would be negatively impacted. All other communities in Nova Scotia wouldn’t be able to get their goods to market. Can you imagine the impact it would have on the Port of Halifax. Its long-held advantage of being able to ship containers to destinations in North American quicker than any other port in Canada or the eastern seaboard of the United States would be lost.

That would be devastating to the port and the province’s reputation as a seafaring people who offer a world-class service to, well, the word?

All three levels of government are well aware of our concerns. Area politicians at all levels of government have been lobbying since at least 2009 for action to be taken to protect our communities and the transportation links that are so vital to our very existence.

We are thankful the three governments conducted the Chignecto Isthmus Climate Change Adaptation Comprehensive Engineering and Feasibility Study. As you are aware it recommended three solutions: raise the existing dikes at an estimated cost of just over $200 million, build new dikes at just over $189 million or raise the existing dikes and install steel sheet pile walls at select locations at a cost just over $300 million.

Since its release, we have had no communication about the next and obvious step – actually doing the work to protect the vital transportation links and our communities. When the study was presented, it was suggested it would take at least five years to begin work with the goal of completing the work within 10 years. To us that is unacceptable.

We believe it is time for the Canadian, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick governments to take action now. We believe enough studies have been conducted that clearly show the peril we face.

We call on your governments to take the necessary measures, as recommended in the study, to preserve and protect the Isthmus of Chignecto. We urge you to begin this work no later than the end of 2023.

It seems to us that the cost to carry out these protective measures would be much less than the cost of fixing the transportation links and our communities should our fears be realized. To us it would be a lot easier to do something now before it breaks.

Yours truly,

Mayor David Kogon, MD

On behalf of the Amherst town council

CC:         Beausejour MP Dominic LeBlanc
               Cumberland-Colchester MP Stephen Ellis
               Queens-Shelburne MLA/Public Works Minister Kim Masland
               Cumberland North MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin
               Cumberland South MLA Tory Rushton
               Maryland-Sudbury MLA/Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Jeff Carr
               Memramcook-Tantramar MLA Megan Mitton
               Mayor Mike Savage
               Mayor Murray Scott
               Mayor Gregory Henley
               Mayor Shawn Mesheau

Isthmus letter combined