Rising waters, red tape choke off Yarmouth County man's land

A seven-year effort by Doug Allen to stop flooding on his property caused by a collapsed culvert on a nearby private road has left him with no answers and dying land.

Doug Allen has been trying since 2010 to stop flooding that's killing his trees

Doug Allen stands on his property in North Kemptville, Yarmouth County. Years of prolonged flooding have killed the trees behind him, and many more. (Michael Gorman/CBC)

Doug Allen's trees are dying and there's not a thing he can do about it. Perhaps even more frustrating for the Yarmouth County resident is no one seems able to help him.

"There's hundreds and hundreds of softwood trees that are dead," Allen said while walking his North Kemptville, N.S., property last week. "White pine that's 100 years old has died and the hardwood trees are starting to die."

Allen and his wife Carolyn's problems started in 2010, when a major flood struck parts of Yarmouth County. One of the victims was a culvert running under a private road near Allen's land called Golden Forest Road, which leads into private lots.

As the culvert collapsed — it was subsequently covered in gravel and fill to repair the road — water started to back up. What was once a three-metre brook leading into and out of the culvert is now 60 metres wide on one side, and in the spring can swell to as much as 90 metres, said Allen.

This brook in Yarmouth County used to be three metres wide. A collapsed culvert has caused the brook to back up and grow many times that size. (Michael Gorman/CBC)

Surrounding maple and fir trees are dead, dying or blowing over, and the water has backed up to Duck Lake, along Allen's land. Areas flooded for six to eight months a year are evident by birch trees with bottoms stripped of as much as two metres of bark.

Frustration growing

The water threatens a cabin Allen has on his land. And of his 57 hectares by Duck Lake, he estimates he's lost four and another 12 have been altered.

His frustration only grows as he details the list of government departments he's tried to work with to solve the problem: Transportation, Environment and Natural Resources on the provincial side and Fisheries and Oceans Canada on the federal side. None has been able to help in the last seven years.

Provincial officials have said they won't intervene on a private road if there's been no infraction.

DFO officials acknowledged to CBC News the collapsed culvert impedes fish passage for all species in the stream, including gaspereau and American eel. But DFO did not spell why it hasn't been fixed or what action the department has taken. 

A view of the collapsed culvert. The road over top has been built up since 2010 with loads of gravel and fill, compromising water flow on one side. (Michael Gorman/CBC)

Further complicating matters is what appears to be an absentee developer registered in Yarmouth County, known as IWB Real Estate Ltd., which to date has not replaced the culvert.

Few options

Yarmouth MLA Zach Churchill said he's tried to help Allen as best he can, but there appear to be few options. There also appears to be a legal dispute between the developer and residents of the subdivision regarding ownership of the road, said Churchill, further tying things up.

"I can tell you as a local MLA trying to resolve a case file, this one has been extremely frustrating," he said, adding that the Environment Department and DFO continue to seek a solution.

John Sollows with the Tusket River Environmental Protection Association said he and other members of the volunteer group have tried to work with Allen to solve the problem. He said he's disappointed by the level of red tape Allen has encountered.

"The legal complexities around that damn thing, basically, have screwed everybody up," he said. "I have never seen anything in terms of private road damage to watershed and upstream watershed as serious as this particular case."

The other side of the culvert still looks the way it did before the collapse in 2010. The flooded side used to look this way, too. (Michael Gorman/CBC)

Fish can't get upstream

Like Allen, Sollows said he's worried about a destabilized environment. The collapsed culvert means it's all but impossible for fish to get upstream to spawn and dead freshwater mussels are washing up along shore.

There is also the concern dead trees will eventually fall and decompose along the shoreline, leaching into the water.

Allen bought his land in 1988, intending to use it as a place for his family to enjoy. Now, as more and more of what was once lush and pristine forest is slowly swallowed, no one is enjoying the land.

In the spring, after the snow melts, Doug Allen's property experiences extreme flooding. He said he's lost four hectares of forest so far. (Doug Allen)

He just wants to see the culvert cleaned up and the road stabilized, no matter who has to do it.

"We'd like to have been able to enjoy the lake view here, the water — my own children and the grandchildren. It was a family thing," said Allen.

"And now we don't even come up here anymore because it's just too disheartening."

About the Author

Michael Gorman


Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia who covers Province House, rural communities, and everything in between. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca