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Not a question of if, but when

Several weeks ago municipal leaders on both sides of the Nova Scotia-New Brunswick border met with MPs Bill Casey and Dominic LeBlanc to discuss rising sea levels and their potential impact on the aging dikeland infrastructure on the Tantramar Marsh between Amherst and Sackville, N.B.

This is not the first time the threat of rising sea levels has been talked about, but these discussions really havent gone anywhere because of the high price tag associated with repairing or replacing the infrastructure on the marsh – some of which dates back several centuries when Acadians first constructed a system of dikes to protect the fertile soils they farmed.

Theres much more at stake today than 250 years ago and an enormous cost will be paid should the next Saxby Gale-like storm strike the area. Those who study the tides predict such a storm would create a surge that could compromise the dikes and damage inland infrastructure such as the only rail line and highway connecting this province to the rest of the continent.

From that initial meeting, Amherst Mayor Dr. David Kogon, Cumberland County Warden Allison Gillis and Sackville Mayor John Higham are taking the next step by reaching out to both federal and provincial officials in their respective provinces to meet with them to discuss the threat to the dikes.

They estimate a massive flood that cuts off the highway and the railway could cost up to $50 million a day in lost commerce, not to mention what it would cost to replace those critical pieces of infrastructure. Besides this, there are millions of dollars in private infrastructure situated behind the dikes, including agricultural land and numerous private businesses that would be threated if the marsh were to suffer a catastrophic flood.

The letter from the mayors, dated Nov. 1, asks for a meeting with federal and provincial infrastructure ministers in the next month to assess the flood risk and to begin the planning process that would lead to bringing the dike system up to date.

Scientists have predicted sea levels will rise along the Isthmus of Chignecto by as much as five metres before 2100. With global warming and more intense storms it only stands to reason that its not a question of if the dikes will be compromised but when.

Weve already seen what Mother Nature can do to other low-lying areas, such as New Orleans after hurricane Katrina 12 years ago and the United Nations has already listed the marshes here as being vulnerable to rising sea levels.

Now is the time to plan for that eventuality; not after the fact when the damage is done and the cost even more to fix. We can only hope that those holding the purse strings will take this issue seriously and invest the money required to prevent a disaster from occurring here.

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