Flood control

Excavator works on water retention pond south of St. James St.

The following timeline chronicles my reporting on flood control in Sackville & vicinity beginning in 2016 when the current town council took office.

Events of 2016

May 2016: Mayoralty candidate John Higham promises that if elected, he will push other levels of government for money and action to fix flooding issues. For details, click here.

August 2016: During his presentation to the New Brunswick legislature’s committee on climate change, Mayor Higham pressed the provincial government for more financial help in coping with the rising tides and severe rain storms that not only threaten Sackville, but also critical links such as the Trans Canada highway, the CN rail line and the electrical transmission grid between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. For details, click here.

Sept. 2016: Town council decides to go ahead with Phase I of the Lorne Street flood control project next summer now that the other levels of government have agreed to pay 75% of its $5.6 million cost. Phase I will consist of replacement of water, sewer lines and storm drainage systems on Lorne Street as well as sidewalks, curbs, gutters and ditches. Council also authorizes Acton to seek further federal-provincial funding for Phase II of the Lorne Street project. For more details, click here.

Events of 2017

May 2017: Council awards tenders for Phase I, the reconstruction of Lorne Street. The work will also include reconstructing St. James Street and replacing local water and sewer lines as well as constructing a new drainage ditch on the east side of Lorne Street that will tie into the second phase of the project. The town says it is hoping to issue tenders soon for Phase II, a $2.9 million project with 50% funding from the federal government, 25% from the province and 25% from the town. Town Engineer Dwayne Acton describes Phase II this way: “All the water will come down to Lorne, work its way through a new ditch system, potential retention ponds, out through [another] new ditch system, out to an aboiteau, out through the aboiteau to the Bay of Fundy.” For more details, click here.

November 2017: The mayors of Sackville and Amherst along with the warden of Nova Scotia’s Cumberland County call on federal and provincial officials to meet with them soon to discuss the threat of catastrophic flooding across the Tantramar marshes. For more details, click here.

November 2017: Consultants from Crandall Engineering, hired to design Phase II of the Lorne Street project, outline preliminary plans for three storm water retention ponds east of Lorne Street as well as plans to drain the ponds through the industrial park to the Tantramar River. For more details, click here.

November 2017: (a) As Phase II of the Lorne Street project undergoes an environmental impact assessment, the province raises serious concerns about its effects on birds and also requires the town and Crandall Engineering to fulfill a number of other requirements, including detailed mapping of all wetlands in the area, taking steps to minimize greenhouse gas emissions, and preventing the release of hazardous materials during construction. (b) At a public meeting, the town says it has revised Phase II to eliminate the small wetland pond just north of St. James Street and hopes Ducks Unlimited will construct that pond instead. Phase II will still include the two larger storm water retention ponds along with major new ditches, concrete culverts under road and rail crossings, as well as a new aboiteau near the river that can handle four times more water than the present wooden one. For more details, click here.

Events of 2018

January 2018: A flood risk workshop sponsored by the town and environmental groups warns participants to be prepared because extreme weather is here to stay. For details, click here.

May 2018: As the town receives environmental approval for Phase II of the project, Town Engineer Dwayne Acton says that Sackville was lucky to avoid flooding during recent heavy rains in spite of all the work done on reconstruction Lorne Street drains. For details, click here.

June 2018: Town Engineer Acton says the town cannot construct the second large storm water retention pond behind the community gardens because there’s not enough money in the $2.9 million budget for it. Meantime, a report from Stantec Consulting warns that there are a number of expensive hurdles to overcome before Phase II can be completed. For details, click here.

July 2018: Town Engineer Dwayne Acton reports to town council that the lowest bid on Phase II of the $2.9 million Lorne Street project came in at just over $5.9 million even after the town had eliminated the second pond. Acton defended Crandall Engineering’s original estimates of the project’s costs. “It’s a huge unknown when you start digging in marsh,” Action said. “It was a very difficult project to gauge.” For details, click here.

August 2018: A majority of Sackville councillors vote in favour of paying Crandall Engineering an extra $105,000 to redesign the second phase of the Lorne Street flood control project. Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken along with Councillors Andrew Black and Bruce Phinney vote against the extra fee. Meantime, the provincial Department of Infrastructure hires a construction company to install three, six-feet, concrete aboiteaux spaced 10 feet apart to reduce the risk of flooding around Rte. 935 in the Carters Brook area of West Sackville. For more details, click here.

September 2018: Crandall Engineering outlines new short-term plans to direct storm water from a pond south of St. James Street through a drainage ditch to an aboiteau behind the Armtec plant instead of through the industrial park as originally planned. The new short-term plan also includes a retention pond in the old Pickard Quarry. However, consultant Pierre Plourde warns the original plan will still need to be implemented for effective flood control. In the meantime, the town says it will seek more money from the federal and provincial governments to carry out its original plan. For details, click here.

September 2018: Merlin Estabrooks, a former deputy mayor, seeks an apology after town manager Jamie Burke interrupts his conversation with Crandall consultant Pierre Plourde outside the council chambers. Plourde had been briefing council on the flood control project during a meeting where members of the public were not allowed to ask questions. “[It was] a friendly conversation clarifying some of the things he had said,” Estabrooks explained during the public question period at a later council meeting. He said Burke told him that he couldn’t speak to the consultant unless he was willing to pay for his time. Mayor John Higham responded that people in town do get to ask consultants questions during public sessions that are held on projects like the Lorne Street one, but at other times, councillors ask the questions in their role as municipal representatives. For more details, click here.

November 2018: Mayor John Higham warns that Sackville is still vulnerable to flooding from heavy rainstorms in spite of the millions that have been spent on the Lorne Street flood control project. He was speaking during a council discussion of the latest Phase II plans that now also include a smaller storm water retention pond near the intersection of Dufferin and Lorne Streets as well as the larger 40,000 cubic metre pond south of St. James Street. Under the new plan, the flood waters will be piped under the CN tracks, then under Crescent Street near the old railway station and out through a drainage ditch to an aboiteau behind the Armtec plant. However, the mayor says the town is still seeking money from the federal and provincial governments to implement its original plan for another large pond behind the community gardens with the water eventually flowing out to the Tantramar River near the town’s main sewage lagoons. For details, click here.

December 2018: Council awards a $1.9 million contract to Birch Hill Construction of Moncton to construct Phase II of the flood control project. The vote is 5-1, with Councillor Bruce Phinney voting against. For details, click here.

Events of 2019

January 2019: Construction begins on retention pond south of St. James Street. Town Engineer Dwayne Acton says Phase II is only a short-term solution. For more details, click here.

January 2019: Town planner Lori Bickford tells council new information should be available within the next few months to help bring Sackville’s flood-risk maps up to date. She adds she would be very surprised if the maps, adopted in 2013, didn’t need some revisions. For details, click here.

January 2019: Town Engineer reports progress on construction of retention pond south of St. James Street. The town has selected two sites for disposal of the excavated soil, one at 283 Queen’s Road and another at 102 Crossman Road. Since each truck carries an average of 10 cubic metres of soil, it will take about 5,000 round trips (nearly 40,000 kilometres of travel) to move the 50,000 cubic metres that will have to be disposed of to dig the retention pond. For more details, click here.

February 2019: Town manager Jamie Burke tells council that since 2017, the town has spent $373,900 acquiring 18 properties for the Lorne Street flood control project as well as for six acres of land that Ducks Unlimited will use to construct a small pond that will serve as an extension to the Sackville Waterfowl Park. For details, click here.

February 2019: Town Council approves signing an agreement with Ducks Unlimited for a small pond on property behind the Marshlands Inn. Under the agreement, Ducks Unlimited will construct, maintain and manage the wetland for 30 years. For details, click here.

April 2019: Town Council is informed that about 9,000 tonnes of contaminated soil has been discovered during the digging of the retention pond south of St. James Street. It could cost up to $400,000 to haul it to an Envirem Organics disposal site in Memramcook. Town manager Jamie Burke tells councillors the contamination was found on land that the town bought from CN Rail on an “as is” basis. For details, click here.

April 2019: Council is told that 1,500 tonnes of the contaminated soil discovered on land formerly owned by CN Rail had to be trucked to a disposal site near Moncton after the province prohibited heavy trucks from using a road in Memramcook due to temporary spring weight restrictions. For details, click here.

May 2019: In a split 4-2 vote, Town Council approves spending an additional $125,000 to dispose of 5,000 additional tonnes of contaminated soil that were discovered during digging of the retention pond south of St. James Street. For details, click here.

May 2019: Town manager Jamie Burke tells council CN was not interested in doing any soil testing on the property the town need for its flood control project. CN gave up the land on an “as is, where is” basis in exchange for a building the town acquired on Crescent Street. For details, click here.

June 2019: During a “learning day” tour of the Lorne Street flood control project, a group that includes visiting environmentalists, raises questions about the town’s “due diligence” and CN’s responsibility for the 14-thousand tonnes of contaminated soil and other materials discovered on its former property during excavation of the Lorne Street flood control pond. For details, click here.

June 2019: In a split 6-2 vote, council approves seeking additional federal-provincial funding for Phase III of the flood control project. It would restore the town’s original plans to build an additional retention pond and drain the storm water across the industrial park to an aboiteau near the town’s main sewage lagoons. It’s estimated the total cost of Phase III would be $4.6 million with the town’s share ranging from $1.24 million to $1.52 million. During a lengthy discussion, Councillor Bruce Phinney calls for the dismissal of senior town officials because of their $525,000 “mistake.” He was referring to the cost of cleaning up contaminated soil and other materials. The mayor also gave background information about why Phase III is crucial for the town to minimize its liability if severe flooding were to disrupt CN Rail operations. For more details, click here.