The Cape Breton Regional Municipality's flood protection planning is being scrutinized again for its impact on a popular nature walk.
Members of an online group are questioning whether the plan to clear three hectares of land in the Baille Ard forest is worth the level of protection it's expected to provide.
The project also entails the construction of three berms measuring a maximum of 2.5 metres high and 22 metres wide.
"The amount of protection that's going to be provided doesn't seem to warrant the sacrifice that's going to be made," said Wayne McKay of Save the Baille Ard Forest, a public Facebook group with about 2,500 members.
"There's not a lot of old forests in the Sydney area, and this happens to be an important piece of old forest."
CBRM's flooding plan will return to council June 15 for a discussion.
McKay said one of the biggest challenges has been understanding the scope of the project. He said the municipality hasn't put into scale what the work will actually involve.
"People we're really taken aback ... because there had never been a 3D model put out. There has never been a concept of the size of what these things were going to be," he said.
For a while it seemed as though the project had worked through some of the concerns that were being brought forward.
Project designer CBCL Ltd., a Halifax-based engineering consulting firm, modified its flood mitigation plan last year, reducing the number of berms to three from six.
But McKay said a recent review of information provided by the municipality has created apprehension.
In addition to ecological worries, there are concerns about what walkers or joggers will see as they journey along the pebble pathway that volunteers spent years working to perfect.
"It's one of the few places where people have been going to take care of their physical and mental health for years," said McKay.
"People are just worried that it's going to really destroy the fabric of the forest and the trail system."
Group members also don't want to see anyone living downstream from the Sydney Wash Brook watershed to be impacted by flooding again.
"My kids were personally displaced from their school for six months after the flood," McKay said. "I had friends and neighbours who lost their homes."
Back to council
CBRM Mayor Amanda McDougall met with McKay and other stakeholders earlier this week to discuss the project.
She said plans to educate the wider community about the proposal are being worked out.
"It would be great if we could have a town hall setting, but unfortunately because of COVID restrictions we cannot gather in that way," McDougall said.
McDougall said she's not anxious about timelines for the project, which was approved before eight new councillors were elected last November to CBRM council.
"We don't even have the permits yet," she said. "I'm more worried about making sure that council is educated on this project, that they understand the history of it and the impact of it, and that community sentiment is also being brought in."
CBRM spokesperson Christina Lamey said project designs are under review by federal and provincial government agencies, which includes an Indigenous consultation. A contractor has been hired and pre-construction planning is underway.
After the approvals are put in place, Lamey said the project is expected to last six to eight weeks.
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