Federal order on Avon River may scuttle upcoming Ski Martock season

·3 min read
The owner of Ski Martock says he needs to know now if water levels can be brought back up in the Avon River, so he can plan for the upcoming winter season. (Submitted by Cal Kilcollins - image credit)
The owner of Ski Martock says he needs to know now if water levels can be brought back up in the Avon River, so he can plan for the upcoming winter season. (Submitted by Cal Kilcollins - image credit)

The owner of Ski Martock outside Windsor, N.S., says if the federal government doesn't change its policy on water levels in the Avon River, there will be no ski season this winter.

The ski hill draws about 272 million litres of water from the river every winter to feed its snowmaking machinery. But right now, the water levels are too low. The ski hill's pumping station is 15 meters above the river, which is only about half-a-meter deep.

In March, federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan issued an order that gates on the Avon River were to be kept open for longer periods to allow for the passage of fish.

The order was to be renewed every two weeks until mid-June, but it remains in effect.

While fishermen and Indigenous groups have applauded the move, others have complained, including the Town of Windsor, which lost its artificial lake and has experienced dust bowl conditions. Upstream, farmers have complained about the lack of water for irrigation and animals.

Paul Palmeter/CBC
Paul Palmeter/CBC

And while ski season is still months away, Jim Boylan at Ski Martock is planning now and said he needs a secure water supply to have a season.

"We've reached the critical point," Boylan said Tuesday. "We need an answer."

He said he can't make decisions on hiring staff and making upgrades and repairs to the facility without assurances he'll have enough water to operate.

The Liberal MP for the area, Kody Blois, has written to Jordan, asking her to adjust her order.

Blois said there's a lot at stake if Ski Martock doesn't open.

"It's 200 jobs, there's 10,000 season-pass holders," Blois said Tuesday.

Paul Palmeter/CBC
Paul Palmeter/CBC

"They generally start hiring back staff in early August to get ready for the season. That's going to be very difficult for them to do if they don't know that there's going to be a guarantee of freshwater."

This week's letter to Jordan is the second time Blois has written to the minister, asking her to modify her order. He made the same appeal in May.

"I'm a proud member of the Liberal Party," Blois said Tuesday as he stood on a patch of dry river bed.

"I disagree with our minister on this current situation. I understand she's in a difficult situation. I'm not asking for a complete return to Lake Pisiquid at this point, I'm not asking for the gates to be shut indefinitely, I'm saying that there's some real concerns that need to be addressed."

Blois said he recognizes that Indigenous rights have to be respected, but it should be possible to adjust the order without infringing on those rights.

Earlier this month, provincial Liberal Leader Iain Rankin added his voice to the debate. He wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, asking him to intervene with Jordan and her department staff to have her order modified.

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