Water protectors concerned rocks, fill from highway project going into Avon River
Fish are 'basically swimming through chocolate milk' going from river to Lake Pisiquid
A group of Mi'kmaw water protectors who have been keeping an eye on the Avon River by the Windsor causeway are concerned about rocks and fill from the Highway 101 twinning project going into the water.
Nikki-Marie Lloyd and other water protectors have been at the river for 37 days. Lloyd said the dumping started about four days ago.
"It's concerning because with all that mud and the rocks going into the river, it will potentially block off some of our fish from coming out," Lloyd said.
Highway 101 runs over the Avon River from the fresh water, man-made lake, Lake Pisiquid. There are gates between the two bodies of water to allow fish to be able to swim through.
The gates open and close with the tides and it usually only lasts up to 10 minutes, Lloyd said.
In addition to the gates opening and close with the tides, Lloyd said there is also supposed to be a maintenance flow at low tide. But she said that maintenance flow hasn't been happening since she and the others have been camped out by the river.
She said not having that flow goes against section 34.32 (g) of Canada's Fisheries Act, which states: "to maintain at all times the characteristics of the water and the water flow downstream of the obstruction or thing that are sufficient for the conservation and protection of the fish and fish habitat."
Lloyd said all the mud and rocks are making it difficult for the fish to swim through.
"There's not enough oxygen in the water and they're basically swimming through chocolate milk, so adding to that it's just making it even worse and harder on our fish," she said.
Lloyd said she and the others have witnessed a few fish kills since being on site, including tomcods, striped bass and gaspereau.
"It's absolutely heartbreaking to watch," she said.
Lloyd said she would like to see two bridges built across the river and for dikes to be built.
"I would love to see the river flow the way nature intended it to so we don't have to sit here and watch our fish dying every day," she said.
Nova Scotia's Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal says infill is part of the approved work for the twinning of Highway 101, with structural work planned to start this year and into 2021.
A spokesperson for the department said an environment assessment was completed and approved with conditions for the overall twinning project, which includes causeway widening and aboiteau replacement.
"This project is a critical component of the Highway 101 twinning throughout the Windsor area. It will provide flood protection for the town and help protect against climate change," Peter McLaughlin, director of communications for Transportation and Infrastructure, said in an email.
McLaughlin said measures to allow fish passage are being considered in the design of the aboiteau.
"The first phase of the work for the Avon River aboiteau and causeway involves the construction of a toe berm and partial infilling of the salt marsh on the east side of the Avon River channel which began in early May," he said.
"This is necessary to begin allowing the soft sediments of the marsh to consolidate (settle) so that it will adequately support the future of the twinned highway."
There is also a lot of support for the project.
The province held a few public engagement sessions in 2018 and in a 2019 report, it said it received positive feedback on an option that would maintain Lake Pisiquid for business, community, tourism and recreational purposes. But the report also acknowledged it would be "a significant challenge to satisfy all interests and suggested a balanced approach."
Lloyd said she and the others have had discussions with the workers on site and she says they've been respectful.
"We know that it's not their decision, right? They're just doing their job," Lloyd said.