Nova Scotia

Sydney nature lovers fear flood mitigation will ruin trail

The Cape Breton Regional Municipality is planning to spend about $3.5 million to add culverts at the outlets to two lakes around the Baille Ard Nature Trails, but advocates worry this will ruin the trail system in the urban forest.

CBRM to add culverts at the outlets to 2 lakes around the Baille Ard Nature Trails

David Gabriel, president of the Baille Ard Trail Recreation Association, hopes to work with CBRM and CBCL to maintain the integrity of the forest. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Some people in Sydney, N.S., are worried Cape Breton Regional Municipality's flood mitigation efforts will ruin the trail system in an urban forest.

The residential neighbourhood around the Baille Ard Nature Trails was inundated with water after more than 225 millimetres of rain fell in the Thanksgiving Day flood of 2016.

Since then, the municipality decided to spend about $3.5 million to add culverts at the outlets to two lakes outside the forest, to hold back future floodwaters.

CBRM is also planning to create retention ponds in the trail system using culverts and large earthen berms across the brooks.

The residential neighbourhood around the Baille Ard Nature Trails was inundated after more than 225 millimetres of rain fell in the Thanksgiving Day flood of 2016. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

David Gabriel, president of the Baille Ard Trail Recreation Association that built and maintains the trails, said the flood control plans would devastate the forest.

"It would be brutal, what they're suggesting," he said.

A large number of trees would have to be cut down, opening the forest to damage from strong winds, said Gabriel.

That would also take away the forest's ability to absorb water, he said. The berms would also alter the brooks forever.

"Can you imagine six or seven dams in a relatively short space of time?" Gabriel said.

"The brook is not going to be the brook as we know it."

A map of the Baille Ard Trail in Sydney,N.S. (Google Maps)
A conceptual drawing in a report to CBRM on flood mitigation options. It shows the Baille Ard trail system, the brooks and suggests placing earthen berms within the trail system. Brooks are in blue, trails in orange and the residential neighbourhood starts in the upper left corner. Highway 125 is in the lower right, which skirts around Sydney. (CBCL Consulting Engineers)

He said the municipality should simply divert floodwaters away from the trails to the outside edges of the forest, and consider other retention ponds outside the trail system.

The group has been told the main intent of the flood controls is to protect homes, Brookland Elementary School, the Susan McEachern Memorial Ball Park and St. Marguerite Bourgeoys Parish Church, all of which were affected by the 2016 flood and are downstream from the forest.

"What we've suggested is that instead of having one big system across the valley floor with all of these berms, that you control the water in two areas and allow the brooks to flow through normally," Gabriel said.

"We think, by using a slightly more complex approach to it, you'll be able to accomplish the same goals and not destroy the Baille Ard Nature Trails in the process."

David Gabriel, president of the Baille Ard Trail Recreation Association, is pleased that a modified flood mitigation plan for the Sydney Wash Brook watershed will have a reduced impact on the urban forest. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Matt Viva, the municipality's wastewater supervisor, said the design and location of the earthen berms has not been finalized and engineers are considering ways to reduce the potential impact on the forest and trail system.

"We are working with the Baille Ard Trail folks to incorporate as many of their needs as possible into the design of these structures," he said.

Viva said it's hoped the design work will be finished in time for the next construction season.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tom Ayers

Reporter/Editor

Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years. He has spent the last 17 years covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at tom.ayers@cbc.ca.

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