Mayors in communities along the critical land connection between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick say they "dodged a bullet" when post-tropical storm Fiona didn't flood the entire area, and they don't want to be caught unprepared again.
A report released last spring said that extreme weather and rising sea levels caused by climate change threaten to flood the Chignecto Isthmus by the year 2100.
But Amherst Mayor David Kogon said Fiona slamming the region in September 2022 showed the need to move much sooner than that.
"Hurricane Fiona scared the bejeebers out of the people in our area," Kogon said Wednesday.
Both provinces are working on a plan with the federal government to repair the historic dikes protecting the isthmus, but have said it could take 10 years before work is done.
In Amherst, Fiona mostly brought high winds and downed trees that caused lengthy power outages. But the area avoided much of the major physical damage seen along the North Shore of the province and in Cape Breton, Kogon said.
If a storm like Fiona struck at a slightly different angle at high tide, Kogon said Amherst and vital trade routes in the area certainly could see flooding.
"That storm surge is a potential problem here, depending on the state of the tide.… Quite honestly we were lucky and I don't want to rely on good luck to protect us going forward," Kogon said. "We dodged a bullet."
The 2022 study suggested three options to raise the dikes or build new ones, ranging from around $189 million to $300 million. Ottawa has told the provinces it could foot half the bill.
But given that about $35 billion in trade moves via the rail line and Trans-Canada Highway stretching between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, Kogon said the cost of not acting quickly is far greater than the project price tag.
WATCH: The Chignecto Isthmus between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick is threatened by rising sea levels
"Our municipal concern is ... when are they going to do it — and is there a way to make this process move more quickly?" Kogon said.
Kogon said he has been pushing the provincial and federal governments to move faster on the issue, as has Mayor Murray Scott of the Municipality of the County of Cumberland who recently sent letters to both levels of government urging action by the end of 2023.
Besides the trade concerns, Scott said flooding it would also hurt hospitals on both sides of the border since many workers travel across the area every day, as was seen during protests over COVID-19 restrictions.
Scott said Fiona also made him realize that extreme storm surge could happen anytime — "not just a number of years from now."
"That's why we're so concerned about the plan to be announced and the plan put in place, and to see some action because it eventually will happen," Scott said.
Liberal and NDP opposition members in Nova Scotia also called for the province's PC government to move more quickly on the issue this fall.
Provinces say no timelines yet on repairs
Spokespeople for both Nova Scotia and New Brunswick said via email this week that talks to finalize a plan for the repairs are ongoing, but no timelines have been set yet.
The final option will be "contingent on additional assessments and investigations required prior to detailed design," wrote Tyler McLean, a spokesperson with New Brunswick's Department of Transportation and Infrastructure.
Infrastructure Canada confirmed they have not yet received an application for the project from the provinces of New Brunswick or Nova Scotia "but we are confident one will be received soon," said federal spokesperson Mikaela Harrison.
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