HALIFAX, THURSDAY, APRIL 5, 2018
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE ON SUPPLY
Mr. Chuck Porter
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. We will get continue with the Estimates of the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal.
We have the honourable member for Dartmouth North with 40 minutes remaining.
The honourable member for Dartmouth North.
MS. SUSAN LEBLANC: Hello again, everyone. We kind of got cut off last night. I’m going to pause on that question I asked last night, ask you a different question and then come back to that one.
So, the first thing that I wanted to ask is, re your comments yesterday, we were talking about P3s and you talked about how one of the reasons that P3s can benefit us is the transfer of financial risk to the private sector. So, I’m wondering about that.
How can you decide, or how do you decide the value of that risk? You know, when we talk about risk, of course, it’s before a project begins so we don’t really know - so do you have a calculation in place to determine that risk, and what is the calculation based on?
HON. LLOYD HINES: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and thank you for the question. The issue of risk when it comes to these major projects which are, in this instance we’ll use the QEII rebuild, the Halifax Infirmary site, which is going to be arguably in the hundreds of millions of dollars, when you start getting into those kinds of numbers, percentage points are significant with regard to change, either upwards or downwards. Often the change is not favorable to government and it’s upwards. So, in the regular tender process, we have the issue of change orders - if there’s a design change halfway through, the owner decides they want something different, then there’s a change order issued and the cost of doing that change order is added on to the cost. You have that risk, the risk of change.
You have the risk of scope which would determine the scope of the project, how far down a particular level that you might want to go. There is design in the period of time that could elapse during a construction such as this one, or even Highway No. 104, as an example, which will be done over a number of years and there are certain variables going in that can’t be measured, that risk of design change is there also.
So, those risks are mitigated in the design/build/finance/operate/maintain scenario which reflect back directly into the value proposition for the project - the value for money which takes the various risk considerations that could influence the eventual price, and certainly delay is one of those; time, because we all know that time is money and it’s particularly relevant in these kinds of projects; and in our own process there is internal risk that would have to do with our own ability, with our own forces to deliver the project; and then the external risk, which is the risk that would be undertaken by the partner who would be signing on to do this. That risk is transferred away from the owner, the project owner, which in this instance would really be the people of Nova Scotia.
So, those are some of the risk evaluations that are conducted. Now, we have been working with Deloitte who are experts in the field and do this on an international basis in terms of evaluating the risk associated with any type of construction when it comes to on time, on budget kinds of considerations. So, that’s where the risk consideration, by transferring that risk away from government, we then discount the cost that we would be encountering if we didn’t, if we had to undertake that risk ourselves.
MS. LEBLANC: Thank you, and so, speaking of time is money, I’ll go back to my question at the end of the day yesterday. So, yes, time is money. It obviously makes sense that we want to have projects that can be completed on a reasonable but tight time frame. So, in the example of roads, because it’s a safety aspect, as well as the hospitals - I guess it’s a safety aspect too - but it makes sense that if a project takes longer it’s going to be more expensive.
So, my question was, yesterday, and I’ll repeat it now, are you worried that a publicly financed highway or hospital - and not a P3 model - can’t be completed on time? Is that a concern of yours and, so if that’s the case, if you’re worried about that, then where does that worry come from? Where does the worry come from?
MR. HINES: Let me say that when we’re focusing in on the P3 or the design/ build/finance/operate/maintain model, everything we do in our department and in government is publicly financed at the end of the day. By tendering out pieces of highway or the Dartmouth General expansion, we are essentially engaging in a public partnership by bringing in others to complete the work.
In some areas of the world, every particular aspect of any job that a government does is actually completed by somebody who was working for the government. That’s the other extreme of the process. Everything we do is financed publicly.
One thing that is extremely important in these types of projects, and a challenge at the best of times, is the time certainty - to be able to say that we can deliver a certain project by a certain time. That of course - in the instance of changes with the VG to the HI site is extremely important because we have to complete the new site before we can discontinue operations at the old site. I think using that example we can all agree that we need to move out of that facility. So, time certainly becomes a major driver in that equation in terms of what we’re going to do.
I also want to remind the House, and the folks who are watching, that at this point in time we are simply exploring the design/build/finance model. We haven’t made any decisions about where we’re going to do - but we need to inform ourselves on what advantages to the people of Nova Scotia, both from a value-for-money perspective and from an expediency or time delivery perspective, to know what those are.
The one that I think rings true to me in terms of the example is the example of the Cobequid Pass, which was a classic P3 operation. That particular piece of work was completed in 22 months, it was 45 kilometres of linear highway. It was completed in 22 months at a cost at that time of $113 million, versus the 15 kilometres that was recently, last year, opened in Antigonish, which took over eight years to build and cost arguably $160 million - so quite a difference in the time and in the cost associated with it.
Part of that comes from going with the traditional model. If you look at the design, construction, inspection, all of those are individual procurements, and those take time to do, as opposed to a consolidated procurement where you’re only doing one procurement for all of those elements.
Also, the issue that you have to take into consideration is the unit cost purchasing opportunity, when you’re doing it on a major scale. You know, you can buy 500,000 tons of asphalt, there are 24 structures in the 104 piece, untold amounts of medical equipment and specialized furniture, et cetera, at the new HI site, so by consolidating that and funneling it through one purchasing process, one design process, one procurement process, then you get economies of scale that go right back to the bottom line.
MS. LEBLANC: I just have a sidebar question on that. In those kinds of processes, the P3 procurement processes, we talked yesterday about the value that the department puts on hiring local companies. When you make a P3 deal for a project, given that there’s one procurement process I guess, as I understand then, that would all be done by someone else, all of those things. Is there a way to protect that value of hiring locally, is there a way to put that into that original procurement contract, where the company that’s hired must do due diligence to hire and use local Nova Scotian companies and Nova Scotian workers? I guess, I’ll just ask that and then get back on track.
MR. HINES: In the first instance, particularly for these large projects that we’re talking about here now, our government and the Province of Nova Scotia is bound by obligations around interprovincial trade agreements, Canadian trade agreements, international trade agreements now with the new European Union, that limits our ability to specify, per se, that local companies must complete the work.
Having said that, though the consortia that may finance any of these projects, maybe X country possibly, you know there could be pension funds that would supply the capital in the process. The other corollary as it were, that comes back that supports local employment is that they’re motivated to get this done in the most cost-efficient way for them, because remember there’s a control that comes in with the process that is not there in a regular government process, but is there in the P3 model that requires them to stick to times and to stick to budgets.
So, that is the sort of gravity that holds that together. We have, through Deloitte in the instance of both these major projects, we’re looking at the market soundings to see if the capacity is here in our own local workforce to complete these activities - and we have some of the best skilled labour in the world who are very capable of delivering the kinds of services, building services and design services that will be required. You can just look outside the Chamber here to see all the construction that’s going on, major projects, hundreds of millions of dollars worth of private sector activity that is being done by Nova Scotia-led labour.
I think we should be very proud of that as Nova Scotians. What expertise is not available here that has to come into the area leaves that understanding and that learning here for our people to assimilate and to use in other places.
So, if you look at, for instance, the type of construction that is being done around us now, and I think the biggest one that we have in the current situation is the $145 million expansion of the Dartmouth General, which is being completed by PCL as the agent and they were the general contractor on the two-floor expansion and our agent on the expansion piece, and they’re using Nova Scotia labour to complete that particular job. So, it’s almost like there’s a sort of inevitability that’s built into the process, that the incentive is there for the firm who would be overall contractor, to be expedient in their delivery by managing their costs, by using existing on-the-ground forces to be able to get the job done.
So, it can’t necessarily be prescribed because of these other commitments that other levels of government have made to bind us to a large extent, but the internal gravity of the process results in local contractors doing the work like, for instance, on the Cobequid Pass. Again, that was completed by a Nova Scotia construction company in record time.
MS. LEBLANC: Thank you. As Monty Python would say, “and now for something completely different,” I’d like to talk about the bill I tabled last week, Bill No. 101. Am I allowed to do that? Am I allowed to actually reference the bill?
So, Bill No. 101 is the bill that proposes amendments to the Motor Vehicle Act for bicycle safety - am I allowed to do this?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Carry on.
MS. LEBLANC: Great. So, I asked about this in the last set of estimates last Fall. There are many municipal active transportation plans that are in place and waiting for the leadership from the province to make these changes to make cycling safer. Basically, my understanding is that the municipalities aren’t going to activate their active transportation plans if cycling is still not going to be safe for cyclists. So the bill that we tabled specifies - and there’s a whole bunch of different amendments that can be made to the MVA, but the ones that we tabled this time were new rules around right hooking where a car overtakes a cyclist, and then turns right into the cyclist, and it happened to me - also dooring, so regulations around when and penalties for drivers when they open a door without looking and hit a cyclist, and so we talked about this a couple of other times.
I want to make a case, a passionate plea for these to be looked at quickly. It’s, I mean, listen, it’s cycling season. We’re about to go into summer. It would be amazing if that bill could get passed and these changes could be made for this cycling season.
We know that active transportation is good for our health; it’s good for the environment. We also know that there are a number of infrastructure projects at the municipal level that are waiting for these changes. So, I’m wondering if you can tell me if these changes can happen or when they can happen and if you would agree to making them happen in this legislative session.
MR. HINES: Mr. Chairman, I thank the member for the question. Perhaps the word “revolution” might seem to be a little extreme in describing what’s happening with active transportation, but I think that we’re in the process of seeing a different way of looking at our transportation routes, and certainly our regulations that are associated with that. I mean, we are also seeing now, particularly in our urban areas, lots of bicycle use in the wintertime, lots of hardy folks who, especially this last winter which was a little bit more forgiving, out there slugging it out in the slush with their bikes.
So, we’re not immune to seeing that change in the department. We’re receiving lots of input around the matter. I’ve mentioned earlier, in my response to the member for Victoria-The Lakes about the beautiful community of Tarbotvale, which is on the Cabot Trail, and the work on that particular stretch that goes in there actually includes the provision for a bike lane because of the attraction that the Cabot Trail has for bikers across the world really. So, we’re slowly starting to recognize that.
We are in the process of trying to apprehend a new piece of legislation, replacing the Motor Vehicle Act with the Traffic Safety Act which we are hopeful we’ll be able to have in front of the House in short due course. Much of the input that we’re getting on the current circumstance with regard to bicycle usage and the consultation that we will be undergoing, we’ve actually started with that legislation, will shape exactly what we’re planning on doing. There is a myriad of processes. I think back to when Henry Ford was introducing cars and the place was full of horses, and the resistance that came to the sharing of the road at that time for people who thought that these smelly, noisy things were not in keeping with what was going on, and I think to some extent we have that same view from the motoring public with regard to bicycles, who are, to some extent, regarded as a nuisance unfortunately, and which is creating endangerment.
We are looking at dooring, in particular. We are looking at the right-hooking in terms of trying to incorporate those protections, as it were, into the regulations, the comprehensive changes in this legislation which is really overdue for an overhaul, and we are working with HRM in terms of their ambition to have the flyover lane on the bridge, which is quite a step forward for the bicycling community there and integrating that into the system.
There are all kinds of things under way. We are being very careful about how we do this because we want to make sure we are fair and open and we don’t want to create divides between the motorized motoring public and the bicycling motoring public so we can get everybody living harmoniously.
I think I might have mentioned to the member the experience in Amsterdam and particularly in Holland where the bicycle use is so high and how they live together harmoniously in terms of what their plan is for their usage.
We will certainly continue to look at what the opportunities are and deal with - which can’t be denied any further - the emerging use of the bicycle and its enduring ability as a transportation system.
MS. LEBLANC: Yes, I agree with all those things and I thank you for that. I would say that, yes, change can be hard. I drive a car and a bike, and many people do, so I think there is maybe an unacknowledged population of car drivers who are already sensitive to cycling safety. I think that sometimes we just have to “build it and they will come” - build those safety lanes so that we have more cyclists on the roads, build that infrastructure, change the laws so that they feel safe, they get out there, and then the motorists will see that it’s all going to be okay and that their cars won’t be taken away from them. I thank you for that.
I wonder if you might commit to, when you are doing consultations around this new Act - the Road Safety Act, I believe that’s what you said it was called - will you commit to meeting with the active transportation teams at the municipal level and also commit to meeting with Bicycle Nova Scotia and Halifax Cycling Coalition?
MR. HINES: Obviously we are committed to consultation. As a matter of fact, Bicycle Nova Scotia, we have pretty fair and frequent discussions, including some comments yesterday that were received in the department. As an example, some of the variations are that we don’t necessarily control all the road construction. We know that the installation of some rumble strips on the Cabot Trail, which was completed by Parks Canada, which is great because it’s not provincial money going into that stretch, but on the other hand they did put some rumble strips in and that’s a problem for the bicycling public.
What we have been doing, particularly in recognition of the Blue Route across the province, is where we can, when we are doing these projects that are part of the Blue Route, is adding - it’s an extra 1.2 metres of shoulder - to accommodate bicycles down the road. Off the Blue Route we’re open to partnering with municipalities when we’re doing a project, i.e., having them pay for the expansion, the 1.2 metres, if that’s what they do.
I think we have an arrangement going with the municipality in Annapolis County at the present time for a portion of road in that area, to provide for that particular opportunity. It has only been in the last four years that we’ve had the Blue Route that we’re looking at making that accommodation on those types of opportunities where the paving work is being done.
I won’t try and gloss over it, it does add additional costs to the project because it’s that much more paving we have to put down, but there’s an opportunity of saving there, too, to do it at that particular time and enhance the drivability for bicycles, which is a great tourism driver, along with the things you’ve mentioned in terms of healthy lifestyle and all of those GHG emissions that are limited on a bicycle compared to your vehicle.
We’re getting there, we’re working towards it, and we’re certainly available to discuss the opportunities with the bicycling organizations that really understand what’s going on and will inform us to transition to these transportation routes.
MS. LEBLANC: In the last four minutes that I have now in this hour I would be remiss if I didn’t ask some constituency questions because I’ve taken some notes from my colleagues over here and they are very good at that. I am going to ask you two things: when can the residents of Dartmouth North expect the pothole to be filled on Highway 118, just as we go onto the 118 near Mic Mac Mall and before Dartmouth Crossing? Second, if you have any information to share about the possible change of hands of the Lancaster intersection from the province to the city, which I know is something that has been talked about. The Lancaster intersection is very dangerous, the city thinks a good idea would be for them to put a roundabout in, but the city needs to have it before that can happen.
MR. HINES: We actually have had discussions with HRM around that intersection, and my understanding is that they have been very productive. We are working towards something that would accommodate HRM in that area. I know that intersection very well; I travel it twice a week and it is busy and getting busier, so I appreciate what you are saying.
With regard to the patching, I am so surprised to hear that there are potholes in the province; that’s amazing to me. No, seriously, we have a program that is just kicking into place now. There is a process called “cold patch,” which is a stopgap measure that really doesn’t last, that we will use in an emergency situation, and the hot asphalt plants, which is the real solution for potholes, open at the end of April.
We will take a look at those and see if there is a requirement that is an emergency big hole - on an emergency base, in which we will shovel cold into it, otherwise our Spring patching situation will kick into place at the end of this month when the hot asphalt plants reopen for the season.
MS. LEBLANC: Citizens should call the 1-800 number to report potholes and then will someone get back to them to acknowledge that their message has been received, or how does that work?
MR. HINES: With the call centre process that we have, when a person calls into the centre, a ticket is issued and it is traceable, so they will get a number and if they don’t see the appropriate action being taken they can trace that back and, let me tell you, we pay a lot of attention to that. That system is working quite well and it gives us an opportunity for traceability. . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order please. The time for the New Democratic Party caucus has expired.
The honourable member for Pictou West.
MS. KARLA MACFARLANE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I want to thank the minister and his colleagues for being here.
I do want to ask - I did ask the chairman with regard to the other gentleman who was just here, and forgive me, I forget his name, but I know he is very familiar with the Northern Pulp and the new treatment facility because he has been at many of our meetings. I am wondering if I can start with that or would you like me to wait a few moments? I can start with roads or I can start with that.
Okay, so I’ll start right off with the Pictou rotary. It’s one of the very few gateways coming into our province, coming from Prince Edward Island, and when I was growing up, that rotary was spectacular. It was beautiful. It was very well-maintained - there were flowers; there were trees, and it was swept. It was really lovely and, as a child, I remember that, so it obviously made an impact. Now I get so many complaints about how terrible the rotary looks. For me, it’s really a reflection on what we, ourselves, think about our own province. It really is.
I realize that TIR is not in the business of landscaping, but they must have been at one time, and definitely the employees with TIR in my area have been very good to me. They are concerned, too. They try to get it mowed at least once or twice throughout the summer, right before our big festival, the Lobster Carnival and a couple of different events they try to help out; however, it’s not enough and they know that as well.
I just would like to know if the minister could find a solution. Once again, it’s right beside where we had our provincial tourist bureau that was shut down, that we’ve actually been able to keep because of volunteers. We have summer students that would love to take on that but I am told that they can’t contract it out to them because then they become a liability. It shouldn’t be this difficult to just actually mow and keep things well-maintained, considering it is, I think the second gateway into the province. There’s 600,000 people who come into that area from May to October. So, if the minister could comment on that, please.
MR. HINES: I certainly agree that that’s a very important gateway for Nova Scotians, both for commerce and for tourism and, if you think about it, it’s probably one of the earliest roundabouts we had in the province - and roundabouts seem to be the flavour of the day. They’re working very well; they’re costing us about $3 million a pop, so we wish they were cheaper.
In that particular situation, the beautification consideration, though we recognize that it is important, we really have a challenge to fund it in our maintenance budgets. So, what we’ve done is worked with the local authorities through the Adopt-A-Highway program, I don’t know if you’re familiar with that, but that’s a situation where a certain area is designated and a volunteer group, or the local municipality, will be supplied with bags and safety vests, and that sort of thing, to clean up an area as a civic pride situation, and that actually has worked quite well and, as I say, in terms of working with the local municipality we’ve had success with that.
One thing that you’ll see in the budget is a major commitment to brush removal and mowing to the tune of $2 million dollars expansion to our commitment to that particular activity and that is going to be directed towards 100-Series Highways, but it will free up resources down the line. We’ll certainly take a look to see if that will affect our ability to do a more regular mowing at that particular site.
I think it’s public information that recently the local municipality acquired the former tourist bureau there, so now we have a common partner right on the rotary. I don’t know if that will address any of the issues you brought up about authority that you were talking about there, but that is the reality and it certainly gives the local authority the ability to - that’s their property now, they can do what they want on that particular site.
It is an important site for a tourist information centre and I’m really pleased to see the effort that DEANS, in particular, has put forward to maintain that facility. I congratulate the community for their participation there because that’s an important gateway to the province.
MS. MACFARLANE: Mr. Chairman. I thank the minister for his answers and I agree Cindy MacKinnon, with DEANS, is an amazing individual who has definitely pulled the community together to keep our tourist bureau open. I won’t belabour the issue. We do go out. We actually just did an ad. We’re all going out with our gloves and garbage bags. We do every year; it’s something that we get our children involved with and we do take pride in that. It’s just that it looks rather tattered when it’s not mowed and so I just hope that the minister and his department will look at this specific area and maybe try to make sure that it’s mowed on a regular basis and maybe someday we can even have flowers back there and just to be a little more welcoming to our tourists and, like I say, the 600,000 individuals who actually drive through that rotary area heading across the causeway and going to different locations.
So, I want to thank the minister and his colleague he was able to have join him because I did want to ask a few questions around Boat Harbour and Northern Pulp and the new treatment facility plant that is going to be built, and I’m just wondering if perhaps first if the minister can give us a quick update on some of the latest discussions and what is actually happening. I understand this week, I believe there was some activity in Pictou Harbour moving forward with the project. So, I’m just wondering if perhaps we can have an update. Thank you.
MR. HINES: The process is moving forward around both the closure of the Boat Harbour facility and the replacement facility for the effluent that would be associated with that. Currently Northern is leading the EA process; they are the lead on that application. We have Dillon Consulting in there as the environmental consultant and KSH Solutions Inc. is the engineering consultant.
The ice is gone from the harbour and from the Strait and that gives us an opportunity to do some work there. The activity you are mentioning there is the geotechnical work that will have to be done on the harbour bottom to determine what the route is going to be for the proposed outfall. That would include an ROV - remote operating vehicle - robotic cameras, to go down and film everything on the bottom. That work is ongoing.
The target is for the application to be filed by July 1st and that remains the achievable target for that replacement facility. So, they are well into the design stage to get ready to file the EA for the first of July.
MS. MACFARLANE: I appreciate what the minister said. It’s nothing new that I didn’t know; I guess I was hoping to have a little bit more of an update on the actual plans, if the actual design is completed. But more important, if the minister could answer my question, who is paying for this?
We are just about to start a major project that could cost hundreds of millions of dollars. We don’t know if the taxpayers of Nova Scotia are on the hook for all of it, we don’t know if it’s Northern Pulp. What we do know is that negotiations have taken place, so someone in the minister’s department must have some basic idea by now what numbers, financially, we are looking at and what the taxpayers are going to be expected to pay towards this new facility. Thank you.
MR. HINES: Thank you very much for the question. It’s not our intention at this time to provide any direct aid to this particular project, and I want to qualify that by saying that we, this government, inherited the process with Boat Harbour and the arrangements that were put in place many years ago around that facility.
We passed the Boat Harbour legislation, which resulted in our commitment to end the Boat Harbour treatment facility earlier than the agreement - the contract that was in place at the time. It was overridden by the legislation, but that does not override the attendant liability that would flow from that.
We need to address that liability and we also need to assess what the economic value of the operation is to the province. It’s not necessarily our responsibility, but we know that it is there for your communities and all the folks who are dependent on that particular operation.
In the current situation, the Province of Nova Scotia owns the effluent treatment facility and we are in the throes of negotiation. There are some things we can talk about, but we are not in a position that we can negotiate in the public forum, for obvious reasons, in terms of how we want to get to a solution that satisfies all the players involved here.
We are hoping that the ownership issue will be addressed and also the operating issue, which currently that operation is conducted by Northern Pulp on our behalf. I apologize for not being able to be more specific about where the costs are in the process, other than to say that we are working with all the stakeholders to come up with a solution that enables us to address the - and we are going to do that and I’m talking about addressing Boat Harbour, but still enables the craft mill to operate. Thank you.
MS. MACFARLANE: I appreciate the minister’s answers. I think I’ll just leave it. I had lots more, but I think I’m just going to hear everything that I already know.
I respect the minister and I respect that negotiations have to remain somewhat closed; however, this project is right around the corner - literally around the corner, and there has to be some dollar amounts attached to it if there is any type of plan at all.
Nova Scotians and, in particular, the constituents of Pictou are feeling pretty frustrated right now that we are not getting any answers towards anything with regard to this project. We are not going to give up, but I will say that I will move on to something else because I feel that it doesn’t matter what department I go to, I’m not getting answers and it’s so frustrating because I feel hopeless, I feel helpless, and I don’t feel like I’m being a good MLA for my people. It’s shameful that we cannot tell the taxpayers how much they are going to be on the hook for. It’s shameful.
Anyway, I was going to ask about the indemnity agreement, but no one seems to want to give me any information about that either.
Let’s move on to the Trenton Connector. I know that the minister has been kind enough, from his correspondence and statement after bringing it up in the House about a week ago, I understand that he’s willing to come to the area and reassess that area again as well as the Westville Road leading into the wellness centre where we have to put a sidewalk in. I’m hoping that when the minister does come to visit those areas, the minister will commit to making sure that I’m there as well. I would like to go with him to those areas. If I could have his commitment to that.
As well, on the Trenton Connector, we know that it’s about $3 million for a roundabout. I have stood in this House many times and said that I understand that the budget is tight, and it’s hard to justify a lot of situations. But here’s the short-term solution to the Trenton connector: pull the sensors and put some speed bumps in.
Can he commit that he’ll make sure I’m with him to review these two locations? Will he take the sensors out at the Trenton Connector and put speed bumps in? We are going to fight for a roundabout, but we know it’s $3 million, and it will be a decade or more before we get it. Let’s save lives right now and do those two things.
MR. HINES: With regard to the Trenton Connector, we have a safety review team on that currently. We’re expecting that in the next couple of months we’ll have that group’s recommendation to see what particular treatment might be appropriate there. In that process, once we get to it, there would be a public meeting in the community to talk about what the solution is, so we can let people know. Currently, the safety people are in the review process. It is being looked at.
I would also mention - I can’t make a commitment - that we have established a $30 million safety fund that is outside of the twinning process to be used in instances like this. I mentioned that your colleague next door is currently getting the first use of that money in the province actually just outside Baddeck. That’s a continuing process and could be a source of funding to address what the recommendations are coming out of the process there. We expect that we’ll have that in before the beginning of summer to have the safety review done.
With regard to sidewalks, and I made this clear previously, sidewalks are a municipal responsibility. They are not paid for or supplied by the department - in my experience anyway. I haven’t seen where we have built sidewalks. There might be instances where if we’re doing work, it’s constructed through our auspices at their cost. But that is clearly a local government issue.
I would be more than happy to come down and tour around with you when we find some time, after we get out of here.
MS. MACFARLANE: I have a lot of colleagues who have a lot of questions, and I don’t want to use up all the time. I have tons and tons of questions.
My last question is, because I have so much here that I want to ask, I’m wondering if the minister and his colleagues will commit to meeting with me as soon as the House rises to address some serious concerns in Pictou West, not only with regard to the roads but also to the concern around Northern Pulp so we can sit down and have a calm, healthy discussion. I know I appear to be very frustrated, and I am. I request that we sit down as soon as the House rises and address some of these very serious concerns.
MR. HINES: I’m pleased to hear your desire to meet with the department. In terms of meeting right as soon as the House rises, I could not necessarily commit to that because things are stacking up over there. We’re going to need a little bit of time. We have to get to that file once we get out of here.
Certainly, some time after the House rises and before July 1st, we could. I know that you have met with our people around highway stuff each year. I think what you are focusing more on is the Northern Pulp issue. We would be more than happy to sit down with you, once we get through here and we see what is stacked up, to talk about where we’re at.
In the interim, if I wasn’t necessarily available, we have all kind of people who are working on this, including Mr. Porter, who was here earlier, and Mr. Swain, who was driving the Boat Harbour replacement. I think there was a meeting last night in the community about that. I understand it went quite well, and there were 50 or 60 people there.
In my absence, if I wasn’t able to be there, we would certainly offer their auspices to speak with you and let you know what the process is and where we’re at - for the stuff that we are able to talk about.
MS. MACFARLANE: I want to thank the minister. By tomorrow, I will certainly have a formal request in for that meeting, to hopefully meet before July. I appreciate it. Now I will turn over some time to my colleague next to me.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Victoria-The Lakes.
MR. KEITH BAIN: First of all I want to thank the minister and the deputy and all the staff who were here for the last couple of days answering a lot of questions. I’m sure that over the next few hours, there will be a lot more.
As the minister is well aware, because he experiences it himself, there’s a lot of roads in Victoria-The Lakes. Over my years as the MLA, I have gotten to know the workers and the administrators quite well. I would be remiss if I didn’t compliment the great work of District Director Gerard Jessome. I deal with two area managers, Steve MacDonald and Darren Blundon. I deal with Sheldon Fiander, Nelson Dixon, Joey Parker, Robert Digou, and all the Operation Supervisors. They go above and beyond. I realize it’s a challenge for them too because of limited funding. When the residents have a complaint, they are on the first line of fire. We appreciate all they do.
Most of my talk, of course, is going to be about roads, as we well know. I just want to follow up first, if I could, on a question that I asked in QP today. That’s concerning the Englishtown Ferry. My biggest concern, I think, was about some of those tourists. It’s hard to believe, but there were actually two campers that went down the Englishtown Road last week and ended up having to turn around and come back.
I know there are a couple of the big signs around in the event that Seal Island Bridge might be down to one lane or something. Is there a possible way that there could be a sign close to the Englishtown turnoff at Exit 12 saying the alternate route would be Exit 11 and that the “open to local traffic only” sign be put up at the Englishtown Road?
MR. HINES: As I mentioned earlier, I understand completely the operations of that ferry, which I think may be one of the busiest of the nine ferries that we have in the province. The detour through Tarbot, though beautiful, is a bit longer. It is the Cabot Trail, and the ferry is a viable shortcut that has been in place for many, many years. I don’t know when it would have opened, but it is probably 50-plus years for sure that it has been there.
I would think that the member’s request is reasonable. We could take a look at having our construction people see if there is any way that we can enhance the signage that is there because now we know that we are going to be delayed a little bit farther, and it’s going to get busier. We will undertake to see if we can get a little bit better directions there. I am sure it must be frustrating for people who go in to the ferry, land there, and find that they have to backtrack. We will undertake to take a look at that.
MR. BAIN: Since I’m on the topic of ferries, I’m just going to switch to the Little Narrows Ferry. I have had numerous requests for flashing lights there, as well. Little Narrows Ferry is not closed nearly as frequently as the Englishtown Ferry is, for a lot of different reasons, but the only thing that is on both sides of the Little Narrows Ferry is a little wooden sign that says Ferry operating - the captain goes up and puts a “not” in there if it’s not operating.
Is there any chance that, similar to the Englishtown Ferry, flashing lights can be installed on both sides of the entrance to the Little Narrows Ferry?
MR. HINES: I think that we can take that request into consideration and see if we can find a way to enhance the signage there. I’m not sure it would be the flashing kind, but it’s something we can definitely take a look at to see if we can improve that process.
MR. BAIN: Those were the two easy questions that I asked. Now I’m going to get into the nitty-gritty.
Yesterday in your opening remarks, you mentioned the gravel road project. I know that there is one major project taking place this year, and it’s on the New Campbellton Road for about 6.4 kilometres of work being done there.
I have to mention something I brought up in Question Period and that I know you, minister, are very familiar with. That is the Meat Cove Road. The Meat Cove Road is never in good condition, I don’t think. It’s the only entrance in and out for those people. Although Meat Cove is in Inverness County, it’s part of the constituency of Victoria-The Lakes now, and they have to go in through the Bay St. Lawrence area.
My question is, is there any commitment at all from your department that major work will take place on the Meat Cove Road this year?
MR. HINES: Yes, we’re very aware of the Meat Cove area, and it isn’t on this year’s program. However, of course, the gravel road program, the $20 million, is scheduled to repeat.
In the process that we have, which I believe the member participated in this year, for consulting with the department on the capital plan, that could be raised into consultations for the next year. In the meantime, we’ll definitely take a look and see if there are any interim measures that we can take to provide some improvement there.
What the gravel road program is designed to do is a comprehensive rebuild. As the member mentioned, the road that was selected this year was the 6.4 kilometres of the New Campbellton Road, which I suspect the member probably had some input into selecting that particular road. That’s a good chunk, and 6.4 kilometres should take care of the New Campbellton Road, a road I have been on many times myself.
For the next construction season, we need to hear from the member that the Meat Cove Road is a priority. For this year, we will definitely take a look at what we can do within the parameters of our existing maintenance budget and any other fugitive capital money that we might have to try and make some improvements to help the citizens of that community.
MR. BAIN: I guess the important thing is that the road definitely needs work done to it. It can’t wait for another year.
One of the complaints often received is the lack of grading that takes place. That could be due in part to lack of equipment in the area because I know that, in some cases, the grading either has to be contracted out, or a grader has to be sent from another area. The potholes are there, you get the complaints, and then it might be another two or three weeks before it gets graded.
There are places where guardrails are falling. There are places where a few loads of gravel have to be placed. In the interim some of that can be done in-house, I’m sure. Since it’s not on the capital program for this year, and I am sure there will be discussions next year about it, I would ask that the minister check into that and get it done as soon as possible.
This brings me to another gravel road, and that is the Kempt Head Road. There are some soft spots. A lot of that can be looked after, but again, here we go with guardrails. With the erosion that is taking place, in sections of the road, the guardrails are leaning or falling.
I know guardrails can be an expensive project. They are not cheap by any means. But guardrails aren’t going to cut it if the erosion is not looked after too. I would ask that the minister, through his department, check that erosion. I know the area manager is very aware of the problem that exists there. Can I get some assurance from the minister that that will be looked at?
MR. HINES: I believe we have in the vicinity of 8,000 kilometres of important gravel roads across the province. I am very pleased to stand here today and say that, in the budget we’re looking at today, we’re seeing an additional $10 million in capital commitment to the so-called gravel road program. That’s up from zero capital money just a year ago. Well, actually there was $10 million in the previous budget year and $20 million in this budget year. We doubled the amount that we’re spending on capital.
It has taken the government quite a long time to come to grips with the fact that many of our rural citizens in Nova Scotia rely on gravel roads. Over time, they have become fully depreciated, you might say, in many instances. There’s no ditching. The old wooden cross culverts that were installed in the 1940s have finally collapsed. That means that we have water accumulation which undermines the road bed. We really seriously have to take a look at it. That’s what our program is designed to do.
I think many Nova Scotians think about the gravel road that’s in front of their place, and they say, we’re going to get some new gravel on top of it. That’s not really what we’re after with this program. This program is designed to put capital money into the subgrade and improve the subgrade, to identify the cross culverts and replace the ones that need to be done, and to provide ditching along the road and crown the road so that the water runs off into the ditch. Then at that point, we find the right aggregate, as talked about yesterday with the member’s colleague, that fits the bill for that particular situation.
The objective is to look for a long-term solution rather than the stop-gap short-term solutions that had been employed, which were coming out of the maintenance budget. In essence, what we were doing in that situation was the classic scenario of robbing Peter to pay Paul.
The member has brought two roads forward today that will form part of the conversation as we move forward with the gravel road program for next year. In the interim period of time, we will take a look at the Kempt Head Road. Although we need to have an ordered manner in which we deploy these capital monies - and we’re doing almost 160 kilometres this year of gravel roads - we are motivated by safety. If we have a situation where there is dangerous undermining occurring due to erosion, and the guardrail is impeached by that, then we’ll look at that on a safety basis. We’ll take a look at the Kempt Head Road see if there are some things we can do there.
MR. BAIN: There’s another short road. Actually, the road is 1.6 kilometres or thereabout. It’s called MacDonald Road in Scotch Lake. Again, this gets back to what the minister has just talked about. It’s material and crowning and everything else, but the road has soft portions on it and potholes. I would love to know how much money over the last five years or so has been spent on grading that road. Calcium has been put on that road sometimes twice a year.
This leads me to the question as to whether or not the double chip seal program is still in effect. I think if a road would qualify, that MacDonald Road in Scotch Lake would be one. I don’t think it would be too expensive to get it done.
MR. HINES: We still have an amount in this budget for the double chip seal. I would suggest that you work with Gerard - you mentioned you have a good relationship with Gerard - to talk to him about putting forward that particular road as a candidate.
I have to say that the double chip seal solution is attractive because it is more cost-efficient for us, but the Catch-22 is that in much of our rural parts of the province, we’re relying on the great fishery that we have. I’m sure members have heard the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture proudly declare the magnificent increases in volume that we’re experiencing in areas like Canso, Cape North, and Neils Harbour from our lobster and crab industry. Those products get hauled out in tractor trailers, and they are heavy.
We have statistics that say one tractor trailer trip is the equivalent of 10,000 automobiles on a 100-Series Highway. In the instance of chip seal, where the chip seal would be a solution for residential traffic in an area, it won’t stand up to the kind of use that we have. I mentioned the fishing industry, but we also have the forestry industry, of course. The roads are currently closed, which is a measure that we take every year to help save our rural roads which lots of members and residents in the members’ riding would rely on, and keep those heavy loads of forestry products off our roads without pulverizing them to death.
In instances where that happens, the double chip seal becomes less attractive because it won’t stand up. It’s not intended for that type of use. The other natural resource opportunity that continues to emerge in the province is our mining industry, which involves the trucking of heavy materials over our road system. The road system, which is a great economic driver for our province - from a tourism perspective, from a trade perspective, from many perspectives - does not come without a price. The price is the construction and maintenance of these particular roads.
The double chip seal solution is one that we like to apply. We do currently have a budget for it. In this instance, I again would encourage you to speak to Mr. Jessome, to see if the MacDonald Road would be a good candidate for that. If there’s not a whole bunch of commercial traffic on it, probably it’s something that we could look at doing. Okay?
MR. BAIN: Certainly, MacDonald Road would be one of those qualified because it’s strictly residential. Probably the heaviest vehicle that would be on it might be the oil truck delivering fuel to the homes.
I could provide a list that would probably take more than the four hours here with the number of roads that require maintenance paving or capital money. The Dingwall Road is one that the minister and I have spoken about already. There has been work started on the Frenchvale Road. I don’t see anything further in the five-year capital plan, but I know that changes all the time as each year goes by - Route No. 223 through the Boisdale and Ironville areas as well.
I just want to cover three more items if I could. Last year, the Washabuck, or the Gillis Point Road was done. I believe the minister has met with the councillor from the area. It has made a major improvement on that road. The only problem is that there are two kilometres that weren’t done. I’m just wondering if the minister might see fit to do that two kilometres, and then that part will be out of his hair.
MR. HINES: Absolutely, the relationships that we have with the various stakeholders are important to us. The one we have with the municipalities, particularly in the rural areas, is vital in terms of informing us as to what their particular priorities would be. I did indeed meet with the entirety of the Victoria County Council since I have been in this position and also more recently with the councillor for that particular area.
He did bring that particular road forward. It’s on our radar. The staff are aware of it and have undertaken to go visit that section when we get a little bit farther on into the spring and take a look at the piece that you’re talking about, the two-kilometre orphaned piece that is there, and see if it is a priority. We know that for that particular councillor, it’s a priority.
I have asked the councils across the province to come up with their collective priorities so that what we’re hearing is the voice of the entirety of the municipality, which goes through the process of prioritizing the improvements that they are interested in seeing. Obviously, in having been in that circumstance myself, you tend to look at what you see as the priorities. Of course, those are the ones that are in your district.
I have to congratulate that particular councillor for taking the initiative to come and meet with me to talk about the things in his district. In fairness, he did bring up some items in a couple of other districts too.
I think the municipalities have a role to play there in terms of identifying to us what the collective priorities are. It forces the councils to do some soul-searching to come up with what they see as the priorities on a municipal basis, recognizing that it can’t all be done in one fell swoop. But we will work methodically with the stakeholders to get to that level.
In the interim, we will have a meeting with the OS there and perhaps the area manager and our senior staff to look at the remaining two kilometres of the Gillis Point Road.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The time for the Progressive Conservative caucus has expired.
The honourable member for Dartmouth North.
MS. SUSAN LEBLANC: I would like to ask a question about the disposal of the fracking waste water in Kennetcook. I understand that the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal took the lead in disposing of the fracking waste water there and that it was wrapped up in December. I was wondering if you can provide us with an update on that disposal. Where did the waste water go, and was the community consulted on that disposal?
MR. HINES: The issue of the fracking water in the Kennetcook area, I believe, was a vexatious problem for some time in the community. We had to make a decision about what we were going to do there. We were able to negotiate a legal settlement with the beneficial owner of the facility, which resulted in a payment to the province.
We then contracted with a disposal company that operates a certified treatment facility in the area - I believe in Debert. I think Envirosystems is the name of the company. The project was successful. As a matter of fact, it came in under budget and under the settlement value that the province had insisted upon with the owners at that time. That has been done and successfully treated, under the watchful eye of the Department of Environment.
MS. LEBLANC: Just to clarify, the waste water was treated, but then where did it go? Where was it disposed to?
MR. HINES: There is a company that specializes in industrial treatment facilities. I’m pretty sure they’re called Envirosystems. It’s a while ago now, and I wasn’t that closely attached to it. They operate a facility, I think it’s at Debert, where any of that industrial style of material is treated. That’s what their business plan is. Industrial treatment is not domestic sewage, but it’s industrial pollutants that are treated there.
I’m not sure what their process would be. We can determine exactly where that is. It’s in the Debert area. It was done under the auspices of the Department of Environment, which would have set the parameters for discharge to the environment. There were no issues or problems, and it met the cost criteria.
MS. LEBLANC: I’m going to ask a couple of questions on behalf of my colleague the member for Cape Breton Centre. Forgive me if I don’t really know what I’m talking about, but I’m going to do my best. I’m an actor by profession, so here we go. I just gave away my secret.
These are about the South Bar roads. The previous MLA in the area had apparently told residents that . . .
AN HON. MEMBER: Who was that? All forgotten.
MS. LEBLANC: He who shall not be named.
He told residents that there was a commitment to repave the road between Kilkenny Lake Road and the city limits over two years ago. I would assume that my colleague would like to know where that project is, a timeline and what might be happening with it.
MR. HINES: I would refer the member to the five-year highway plan, the 2018-19 edition, the projects planned for 2019-20, two asphalt projects for 2019-20. The last two entries in that particular column are under the category of repaving arterials and collectors.
I believe this captures the piece that is involved, which would get all of Kilkenny Road. From Egan Avenue easterly to Kilkenny Lake Road is 6.1 kilometres. That’s Trunk 28. Continuing on Trunk 28, Seaside Drive from River Ryan Bridge to Emerald Street is 2.8 kilometres. They are both on for next year, 2019-20. That would total 8.9 kilometres of repaving of arterial collectors. I think that captures the Kilkenny Lake Road that she’s talking about.
MS. LEBLANC: I also understand that the South Bar highway is meant to become an active transportation highway. We were talking about active transportation earlier. As well, the member for Cape Breton Centre understands that sidewalks were promised along that stretch over 10 years ago.
I’m wondering if the minister can confirm the plans to make that section of the South Bar highway an active transportation highway and also give some clarity around sidewalks.
MR. HINES: For the active transportation process, the key deciding factor is the identification of the particular highway as part of the Blue Route. Then it automatically falls into the active transportation category. I’m not sure if Trunk 28 is part of that. We would undertake to look and see if it is. If it isn’t, then we have to work with the local municipalities to expand activity when we’re going to pave, which they would help with, and we would be able to reach that outcome.
It’s very difficult for me to comment on things that were promised 10 years ago, other than to say that if it is sidewalks, it is municipal, not provincial.
MS. LEBLANC: How wide is Highway 28, and is it safe?
MR. HINES: The majority of highways in the province exist normally in a 66-foot right-of-way. The travel surface is approximately 8.4 metres. We have not been aware of any particular safety issues on that highway. I would have to say that in the absence of any other evidence, it would be a safe route.
MS. LEBLANC: I just want to go back for a minute to our discussion in the last hour about active transportation, and talk about the provincial Active Transportation Policy Framework. I believe this was introduced by Maureen MacDonald - I don’t know if I’m allowed to use names when they’re no longer sitting - when she was the Minister of Health and Wellness. There was an all-Party commitment at the time to this policy framework. I’m wondering if you could update us on what has been done in relation to that policy framework and if you could table a list of completed projects in connection with that.
MR. HINES: Yes, the program continues to exist. It actually lives in several different departments and is administered through those departments. In our particular department, it is the commitment to the Blue Route.
I think about a year and a half ago, there was a specific deputies’ committee set up to look at that because of the fact that it does live in DNR, in CCH, in Energy, and in Environment. I think Energy has active transportation. DNR has the trails component of it. We do the Blue Route commitment.
I believe that working group meets regularly. I think a year and a half ago, the group itself migrated to our department, and I believe our deputy is the current Chair of that particular group. It does exist, and it continues to work. I have been called on to appear for some announcements of some of the various projects that have been undertaken - a lot of support from the municipalities.
From our perspective, we can get you a list at a later date of the projects that we have completed, and we can see if we can identify some of the others that have been done by the other departments too.
MS. LEBLANC: That would be great. I would really like to have that information.
Thank you very much for all of your answers and generosity. With that, I will finish my questions.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Pictou East for the PC caucus.
MR. TIM HOUSTON: I’m wondering if you can tell me the budget for the Northern region for this year and last year - two numbers, the number for this year and the number for last year.
MR. HINES: In 2017, the RIM budget for the northern region was $3.3 million. In 2018, it is scheduled at $3.6 million.
I just gave you the RIM budget. The overall budget for winter and summer in the northern region was $37,282 in 2017-18, and $36,067 in 2018-19.
MR. HOUSTON: Could we get the same numbers for the western region, please?
MR. HINES: For the western region, RIM last year was $5.2 million; this year it’s $5.5 million. In the total operating category, last year western was $43.113 million, and in 2018-19 it’s $45.470 million.
MR. HOUSTON: So in the northern region, the budget went down this year by $1.2 million, but in the western region, the budget went up by over $2 million. Can the minister explain why the budget for the northern region was reduced?
MR. HINES: The adjustment in the northern region was a result of a significant underspend in the winter portion of the budget, which resulted in that drop in that particular category of $1.215 million. The actual bridge and RIM expenditures went up a total of $460,000 and $246,000, so $500,000 in those two categories in the overall. But the major drop is based on the spend in the winter part of the budget.
MR. HOUSTON: I guess the budget for last year in northern was $37.2 million, so if I understand the minister correctly, that wasn’t all spent, mostly on account of the mild winter that we experienced. As a result of the budget not being spent, next year’s allocation is being reduced. I just don’t know how that would jive, particularly when I look at the western region, which went up significantly. I don’t know.
I just want to make sure that we understand why the budget has gone down. Obviously there are no fewer roads. There’s no less call for work on those roads. It would seem odd that one region would go down and a different region would go up so significantly.
MR. HINES: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. In the overall picture, the various allotments are based on the kilometrage that exists in the jurisdiction. In the northern district, the summer budget in the overall, when you consider bridges and RIM, increased by about $300,000. On the winter side, it did drop by $1.5 million because of the underspend.
On the western side, on the summer side, because of the difference in kilometrage, that budget increased significantly, and with a similar increase in the bridges and RIM amounts, which resulted in an increase in their budget based on the distances, and the winter impact impacted the northern region.
But when it comes to winter, we don’t stop plowing roads or doing any kind of work because the budget is impaired. We deliver that service regardless. So the impact on the winter spend - should that be required in the northern region, that money will be there to execute that work.
MR. HOUSTON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. If the minister is reading from something, I wonder if he can table that document.
I would ask, if there is a metric that says total budget per region divided by total kilometres in that region equals X, if I could have the X for northern and the X for western, if that’s the number that’s available.
MR. HINES: Mr. Chairman, I thank the member for the question. Since we’re in Budget Estimates and the document that I’m referring to is a proposed allocation, if you don’t have the budget approved yet, I’m not able to table that document.
However, if we successfully adopt this budget, I’ll be more than happy to give you this actual document, as requested.
We don’t have the calculation that you’re talking about here for you right now, but we’re more than happy to do that calculation and share that with you as soon as we can get it done. We’ll undertake to get it before House rises. (Interruption) No, I wouldn’t say today. How about tomorrow? (Interruption) I don’t think it’s actually really available. We’ll get it by tomorrow, Mr. Chairman.
MR. HOUSTON: Thank you. You probably can see what I’m getting at. There’s a lot of talk that money was taken out of a northern region and put in another region. In the northern region, there are a lot of Opposition MLAs, and then there’s a prominent MLA in the western region. It is true that one budget went up and one went down. I think you can dispel some of the concerns if we can put some facts down. I appreciate that.
There was an announcement - I think it was heading into the election - about a $10 million gravel roads fund. Was that fund spent?
MR. HINES: In the 2016-17 budget or the 2017-18 budget - the year that just ended - we had a $10 million allotment which was fully exhausted and very welcomed. The announcement last year was to increase to $20 million in this current year’s budget, which is in this budget that we have before us today. Some contracts have been tendered, but that $20 million hasn’t been spent yet - but it’s totally allocated, including 4.6 kilometres in the member’s riding.
MR. HOUSTON: Thank you. The minister knows how to get my attention. Would the whole $20 million all be tendered out to private companies, or would some of that be used with internal resources, but some of the $20 million would be used for materials - aggregate and such. Is it all tendered out, or does some come from internal?
MR. HINES: Thank you very much, and thank you for the question. Generally, as it is capital money, it is tendered out. There might be an instance where we saw an opportunity to do a cross culvert or to do a bit of brush removal in advance of a project using our own forces. That would be an opportunity that would be seized, but very little of the total budget would be going in those ways.
Mostly, on a general basis, the gravel road program is done through our contracted process. I’m seeing those tenders currently, and I think we’re starting to award some of those as we speak.
MR. HOUSTON: Is the reason it’s all tendered out because in the department’s opinion they can get more kilometres done with the private operators than they can with the internal staff and equipment?
MR. HINES: We’re very excited about the gravel road program. We’re happy to see, at this point, $30 million committed in capital upgrades to our gravel roads, which are very important to our rural residents. That includes HRM, because there are lots of rural roads in HRM - so not to exclude any particular municipality.
At this point, we’re sort of in a learning curve in terms of how this is going to work. We’re just into the second year of the process here. I have seen estimates for single jobs under the gravel road program approaching $1 million. Those are very significant amounts. The ability for us to internalize that with all the other things that we are responsible for in peak season limits our ability to do that in the process, but we will be conducting an analysis of what our efficiency is in terms of how we’re deploying this capital money to see if there is any benefit to us by conducting these activities in-house.
Currently we’re just following our regular procedures to deploy this capital and monitoring to see if that’s the most efficient way we can do that. So far, given the fact that some of these contracts are quite large - they’re not $50,000 or $100,000, they’re several hundred thousand dollars - it is capacity in the department to do that.
I would think that the analysis will tell us that we’re down the right track, but we’re learning as we go ahead here.
MR. HOUSTON: Thank you to the minister for the response, which I understand is a capacity issue. This is in addition to what is possible with internal resources.
The Cobequid Pass is maintained by TIR under a subcontract arrangement from the operator of that stretch of road. The department is contemplating an arrangement on Highway No. 104, I believe, where a private company would be responsible for the building and the maintenance of the twinned stretch, as I understand it.
The minister might correct me if I’m wrong, but I understand that as part of the maintenance, the department is looking at having the private company maintain that newly-twinned stretch, but also maintain an additional stretch that is already in existence and is a provincially-owned road.
I wonder if the minister can confirm that that is the situation, that we would have a private company maintaining the newly-twinned stretch and also a stretch of existing provincially-owned road?
MR. HINES: I thank the member for the question. We’re in the analysis stage with Highway No. 104. The member is correct in terms of the Cobequid Pass. The corporation opted to employ provincial forces to do that particular stretch. That option would be available if the analysis that is being conducted for Highway No. 104 says that the best value for money would be to add in that piece that you are talking about and to also tender the maintenance in that process.
In the instance of the Cobequid, the service infrastructure that is in that area made it attractive for the operator to use the provincial forces and provincial salt domes and maintenance facilities. That may turn out to be the same thing in this other section here, but we’re just entering into the analysis that will determine whether or not that is the way we go, if we actually go design-build-finance-operate-maintain or if we go with the traditional method of construction. That will be determined when we get the final analysis of what the value for money proposition is.
In terms of your question, the analysis does encompass the section of road in Antigonish that is relatively new. It was built between Taylors Road and the raceway there, and that would be what we’re looking at, in terms of the operate-and-maintain piece there.
MS. HOUSTON: Minister, I’ll be passing it over to my colleague from Kings North, but I have one final question. In the budget for this year, how much is allocated for the cost of the Yarmouth ferry, including infrastructure money spent down in Portland on that side and including the annual subsidy? How much is in the budget for the operation of that ferry this year?
MR. HINES: Let me say that on a recent analysis of the Nova Scotia to Maine ferry, we discovered pleasantly that 15 per cent of the total American visitors to Nova Scotia chose that route to come to the province, which was in the vicinity of 26,000 people out of a total of around, I think, 220,000 visitors who came. We are very pleased at that number to be contributing through that one particular access - that volume of visitation to the province in the tourist season.
We budgeted $10.9 million this year. It appears in the budget for our operating season for this year.
MR. HOUSTON: Thank you, minister, for the responses. I look forward to the information on the cost per kilometre.
I will pass my time to my colleague for Kings North. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Kings North.
MR. JOHN LOHR: Thank you. It is a pleasure to ask a couple of questions of the minister. I guess my first question, Mr. Minister, is about the Kentville Bridge on Highway 359 - the replacement bridge.
I am just wondering if you can update me and the citizens of Kentville on the status of that project - when they can expect a new bridge there and where we are now. As you may know, it has been slow in coming, but there have been reasons and we understand that.
I am wondering if you can give me a general idea of what’s going on there.
MR. HINES: Thank you, member, for the question. Let me just say that I think the department shares the frustration on this particular project. It is all ready to go, but sometimes this happens in these situations where we have other stakeholders who are involved.
In this instance, one of the major stakeholders is the power corporation and a local landowner, so there are constant negotiations in place to try to resolve the move forward. We have set a time as the end of this Spring for resolution, one way or another, to be able to move that project forward.
MR. LOHR: I’d like to thank the minister for that answer. I think what I heard the minister say was that - and I am aware that that was the issue, that there were lines for Internet and for power going across there and there were poles that had to be relocated. Maybe in the beginning it was thought that only a certain number of poles needed to be relocated, but the engineers doing the work needed more space to lift things in place. I think that’s what happened.
I guess what I heard you say, Mr. Minister, is that the negotiations on who pays for what on the relocation of those poles has not yet been resolved. I am kind of disappointed to hear that. When do you expect a resolution of that, and the actual construction of the bridge to begin?
MR. HINES: Again, I can sense the frustration in the community about getting this done. However, we don’t have the full prerogative to move here in terms of the Nova Scotia Power Corporation itself, and also the freehold landowner in the area there.
We’re working diligently to get that corrected - to reach a negotiation and finalize that. As soon as that’s done, the project is ready to go. So we’re very hopeful. The minister is getting insistent that we move that project forward.
MR. LOHR: I would like to thank the minister for that answer. I think I can speak for the community that they would like to see the bridge completed. My understanding is that the existing bridge, which is one of the oldest steel bridges in the Maritimes, seems good, but when you’re on it, it certainly bounces. When you get stopped on it, you realize there’s a reason why this bridge is being replaced.
I would like to ask the minister about another road. I believe a tender went out on the remaining portion of Pereau Road to go from Hubbard Mountain Road to Stewart Mountain Road. I believe that tender has already gone out.
Can the minister confirm that the remaining rough section of Pereau Road, which is a vital link to the Blomidon Provincial Park and carries a lot of agricultural products - can he just update me on when work will start on that portion of Pereau Road that’s left to be done?
MR. HINES: The add has been signed on that one. We would expect that when we get the roads opened, the tender would be going out May 1st at the latest and construction would start on that particular tender.
MR. LOHR: I was under the impression the tender had gone out. It hasn’t gone out yet? I thought it had already gone out and was accepted.
MR. HINES: Yes, it’s a very busy time for us in terms of trying to get our tenders out the door. We’re quite sure that it has actually gone out - that the tender is gone. The work would start toward the end of this month when the roads open.
MR. LOHR: I have many constituents, and that’s a pretty important link for us, that road. I appreciate that it’s getting done. Part of it was done last year and this is the remaining section.
I think the minister may know - and I just want people to know, for the record - that we estimate locally that there is $50 million worth of agricultural product travelling on that road each year, approximately. We think we’re approximately correct. Farmers don’t tell us what their gross income is, but we know who is doing what. That’s not my estimate, but one of my local farmer friends.
That is the only road to the Blomidon Provincial Park. We have many people going there with RVs and pulling trailers and stuff, and it is an incredibly rough section, so we really appreciate it getting done.
The other issue we have - I know we had a pretty good winter. We didn’t seem to have a lot of snow, but the freezing and thawing was kind of hard on the roads. There was quite a bit of that in Kings North and in Kings County. We have a fairly big pothole issue, with many potholes on the roads. Even though there wasn’t a lot of snowplowing that took place, it was hard.
I’m just wondering if the minister can update me. Given that we maybe have a worse pothole situation than we’ve had other winters, and maybe we had less of a snowplowing bill than we had other winters, is there any plan to put extra resources into potholes in Kings County this Spring?
MR. HINES: As minister, one of the things I asked the staff to do was create a fairly large map of the province that showed me the various regions, the districts, and where the roads are. Intuitively, it would be perhaps what you might think.
I will talk about Kings County. Kings County has a lot of the province’s roads, and when I say “roads,” I mean dirt roads, paved roads, all of those things. It is quite a network of roads in Kings County. I think it might be one of the densest in the province, just at a look on the map. I invite you to come over to the office any time, Mr. Chairman, and if the member would like to come, we’ll have a look at it. It is informative to me in terms of how the evolution of the province has happened with roads.
Another area that is very dense for roads is Pictou County. Of course, HRM is a little bit more difficult to talk about, because we don’t do the roads in most of the Halifax Regional Municipality, as opposed to my riding, which is Guysborough-Eastern Shore-Tracadie, which includes the eastern part of Halifax Regional Municipality, all of Guysborough County, and a portion of Antigonish County. When you look at the map presentation, you just don’t see any of those roads. There are a few routes and trunks and that is it.
For Kings, you have lots of potholes because you got lots of roads, and the reason for that is because that area of the province has been so productive in terms of it being our great farming area - a very productive part of the province. I think Pictou County through its history was a more industrial style and resulted in a lot of roads there for goldmining and steelmaking and all those kinds of things. That’s kind of the context that we are in here when it comes to understanding the road network of the province.
This year, as somewhat of a help to address what you are talking about, the RIM money in this budget includes an additional $1 million in RIM which will be used to help address those remediations that happened. You are absolutely right, the freeze-thaw cycle we ended up with - the movement creates more movement in the sub-grade and it’s hard on the roads.
People assume that because we didn’t have a lot of snow, we would have a wonderful surplus in our winter budget. I have to tell you, that is not the case. Although we did have less snow, we had to continue our guarantees in the areas for operators to make sure we were ready to respond. We had to put that equipment out with the plow up to spread brine and salt. With the plow up or the plow down, there is some saving, but the significant costs associated with the operator, the equipment, the M&R, and all that sort of stuff are still incurred.
Although I am extremely grateful for the great winter that we have had, and I am sure HRM is very grateful, it didn’t result in a significant adjustment in our winter budget, as it were.
We are a little bit better equipped because we have an extra $1 million in RIM. The roads will be opening shortly, and the hot asphalt, which is our best patching medium, will be available at the end of this month. We are going to have to go into an intense analysis by district and by region of where we are at with our patching process and get to those potholes.
That’s the overall picture as to where we are, and I’m hoping that we’ll be able to continue to increase that RIM amount back to the $20 million where it was until it was reduced in 2010. That’s essential funding for our rural areas, and the government has agreed to give the department an extra $1 million this year for that very purpose.
MR. LOHR: Thank you for that answer, Mr. Minister. I understand what you’re saying about cost savings, and I can appreciate that they weren’t really realized on the snowplowing budget for those reasons.
I do want to say that I have a lot of respect for your staff in Kings County and I think they all do a tremendous job. I have debated with them the philosophy of how they’re going at it, so I do want to share that with you before I hand my time over to one of my colleagues.
What I understand is happening on the patching plan in Kings County is - I have two area managers I deal with, but the one who represents the bulk of my area, I share with Kings South. Their staff are patching one week in Kings North, one week in Kings South, so they are alternating. What it means is that they start patching as soon as the hot asphalt is ready, essentially, and are patching a week here, a week there. It goes on pretty well until the end of the summer - right into October, I think.
I can totally understand the logic of that from the point of view of staff management. I farmed and I managed people all my life. I can see the advantage of doing it that way, from a point of view of managing your staff. Everybody knows what they’re doing, and the work.
What happens is my constituents have - somewhere there’s a pothole and it’s there until October before it gets done. It leads to frustration. What I’ve said to my area manager, and I’ll say to you, is that I think there needs to be a rethinking of the approach to potholes. I think the public would like to see it done in May - done and over with, you know what I mean, as opposed to dragging it out.
I understand fully the reasons why, from an operational point of view. It’s easy to manage people and resources when you know every week, it’s just going this way. That solves the management issue. But the public are coming to us in July, August, September, with a wrecked suspension on a car, totally frustrated.
I’m just wondering if you could comment - are you rethinking the philosophy of how you’re going about addressing these pothole issues? Do you understand what I’m saying? What are your thoughts on that?
MR. HINES: Thank you for the question. This is an eternal issue that’s probably not ever going to go away, considering where we live in the world and considering the limitations we have around cost and trying to live within our means. I often refer to it as the loaves-and-fishes process that we’re up to here, to try and meet the requirements out there with the limited amounts of money we have for this sort of thing, for patching.
You know, in government the shortest distance between two points is never a straight line. When we set up to do some pothole patching, that means bringing in the traffic control people. We have to have them there to get that work done. So there are resources that are not going into potholes, but they are being spent at the time. Obviously that’s a safety consideration, so we are absolutely compelled to do that, but that does two things: it slows down our agility and it also eats up our resources. But that’s a given. We have to do that.
In terms of priority as to where we need to go, I think that’s something we can work on together. We can work on that, first of all - and I know you’re doing it, Mr. Chairman - through working directly with the local folk, who are really the best source to get results. As minister, I know that 99 per cent of the issues that come up in the various constituencies are solved on the ground by the people we have in place there who, as you so graciously complimented, are really great people. We’ve got a couple thousand people out there, and I really believe they are all dedicated to their assignment. That’s a big plus for us.
In order to get them moving, there has to be communication. One technique that has been successful, that doesn’t necessarily involve the various members - I encourage the municipalities to set up a formal liaison with the department, to meet directly with them, the area manager, and the operating supervisors, a few times a year. What that does is it helps the communication line and it helps reduce the frustration level that builds up when people are talking to each other about a problem and not talking to the people who might have the ability to help solve it. So there’s that.
The other thing we’re working on right now is creating a better awareness for the call centre process we have. Every time somebody calls the call centre with a situation - say it’s a dangerous pothole, and they do exist - then that is logged and a ticket is issued. It is then traceable. We do audits of what the response rate is and what the clearance rate is and all of those things. But I think we can perhaps do a better job of pushing that out to the general public so that if your ratepayers know there’s a dangerous pothole, that gets logged, goes in the system, goes back to your people right there, and becomes a priority and gets pushed up the food chain.
I think that part, which is always an issue, which is the communication piece, can be constantly enhanced and worked at. I’m sure the situation you described between north and south is an effort for them to do their loaves-and-fishes deal to try and spread the money out in a prioritized manner in the process there.
I think that by working together with our people in the field and the people on the ground and the municipal interests and the call centre, we can improve the response rate and prioritize the issues around potholes. You can’t make them disappear, but I do believe that together we can do a better job of managing them.
MR. LOHR: Thank you for that, Mr. Minister. I guess I should clarify on Kings North and Kings South. I think the potholes need to be done in both Kings North and Kings South in the month of May. I’m not saying that I’m begrudging the splitting of the resource. I’m just saying that the timing of getting it all done is - I think the public would feel a lot better if it was done more expeditiously.
I appreciate the answers. I would like to thank you and turn it over to my colleague.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Inverness.
MR. ALLAN MACMASTER: Thank you, minister and staff, for the opportunity today. My first question is about something I talk about a lot, and that’s the RIM budget. I’m curious if there has been an increase in the RIM budget for this year. It’s something I follow closely because we have a lot of rural roads in Inverness.
I know if we compare the budget to what it was back in 2010 - it was around the $20 million mark at that time, and now we’ve been around the $15 million mark for the last eight years or so. Of course, if you reduce a budget by 25 per cent over eight years, it would be the same as having the old budget but not having any maintenance for two of those eight years around the province.
I know it’s something that’s very important in rural areas and for the minister in his own area. This is an important budget. So the question is, what is the RIM budget in dollar terms this year? Thank you.
MR. HINES: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and I thank the member for the question. It’s a very relevant question, as he indicates, particularly to the rural areas in terms of the RIM.
The history of the RIM money was actually when - I guess it would be when the member’s Party was in government, and the budget was set at $20 million. When the New Democratic Party went into government in 2009 and 2010, that budget was reduced from $20 million to $15 million, where it stood for the 52 months that that particular Party was running the finances of the province.
When this government got elected in 2013, in the 2014 budget, we increased that budget from $15 million to $16 million, added $1 million to it. This year, after a gap of not changing it for two years, we just in this budget added an additional $1 million.
The RIM budget is now $17 million for the province. In addition to that, we’ve added a $2 million commitment to brush cutting across the province.
We’re introducing a new program of brush clearing and vegetation management on our 100-Series Highways, which is going to displace or diffuse those dollars that had been spent on the 100-Series Highways out to our trunks and routes and other roads.
Being a rural MLA, I know the proliferation of growth in the province is incredible - like, two years, and you’ve got alders that are eight feet tall and blocking the roads, and it’s a safety issue. I get constant prodding to do more brush removal, which is also out of the RIM money. So in an indirect way, that $2 million will free up some more money to help brush cutting and put a little bit less pressure on the RIM budget in those situations.
In answer to your question, the budget in this budget year is going from $16 million to $17 million for RIM, plus a $2 million new commitment to vegetation management across the province.
MR. MACMASTER: Mr. Chairman, what is it the Clerks say when we finish Budget Estimates for the day – there has been “some progress”? I would say the same in this case. I won’t say “some considerable” . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Time for the Progressive Conservative Party has expired.
The honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid.
HON. DAVID WILSON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. We’ll pass our time. We’re finished with questioning.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much, honourable member.
The honourable member for Inverness.
MR. ALLAN MACMASTER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I’ll say again, I will say there has been some progress, but I won’t go so far as to say “some considerable progress.” But I do appreciate the response from the minister. It will certainly help.
One might say that effectively it’s $19 million this year for that rural maintenance for those roads. That is an improvement. I’m glad to see that.
My next question is around delays at the Canso Causeway, specifically with the swing bridge. This problem may be solved. Minister, I want to give you an opportunity to tell us if progress has been made on that front. There were a lot of delays last summer, I think maybe due to some issues with the new technology used to swing the bridge.
Is that problem now solved, and will we see a reduction in the delays at the causeway that would be due to problems opening and closing the bridge?
MR. HINES: I appreciate the question from the member, who has offered some constructive suggestions to that particular bottleneck - to call it what it is - in our transportation system in the province.
The causeway is a key transportation route for us. It is extremely busy. That particular stretch there, and of course, in the provision that exists to allow marine traffic through there - which is also vital to our business in the area and our fishery - that is kind of the compromise that we had to pay back in Angus L.’s day when that was started up there.
The causeway opened in 1955. The history there is that up until two and a half years ago, that was a federal responsibility. We agreed with the federal government to take it over a couple of years ago, I think, subject to a significant upgrade which resulted in the temporary bridge that was put in while the old one was refurbished and a new system was put in place. That brings us to the problem that we have, and that’s working the bugs out on the new system.
We have taken the time that was afforded by the closure. The bridge closed on December 24th and was scheduled to open April 15th - again, avoiding the ice season - to work out the identified problems that we had. Between August and December, we didn’t have a closure on the bridge there.
One of the things we are doing is looking to contract a maintenance process for the bridge that will be more responsive than we were able to do as we took on the new role of operating that particular piece of infrastructure. So that is part of the solution.
Most of the problems that were identified - and I can’t qualify what they were - have been worked out. There will be some ongoing housekeeping, but introducing a new process for dealing with outages, as it were, will hopefully result in more expedient repairs when the bridge does go down, which is bound to happen. I have to say it happened too frequently in the last year, which caused a lot of issues.
That brings us to the other piece that the member had suggested, which we are actively pursuing, which is a design around the causeway that could provide a relief lane to get down Route 19, coming from the Port Hastings area, so people who are stuck back there when the bridge is down would not have to endure that wait and could move through to get to their beautiful Mabou once they go forward.
MR. MACMASTER: That’s very positive to hear on both counts. The causeway - it sounds like there is a solution for that. I actually saw the old technology. This was almost two years ago, so it was well before any of the changes were taking place. It was interesting to see the big levers that were used. It’s old technology, but it did work.
I remember the gentleman who was operating it was telling me that when he first started there it was very rough, and he had figured out some way to smoothen the operation, but it was with physical levers. Sometimes the old, simple stuff works well, but I do realize times change, and this technology that’s in place now is not going to just be in use for last year and this year - it’s probably going to be in use for the next 30 years or maybe more.
I’m glad to hear that. I’m also glad to hear that the department is looking at a solution for the rotary and the traffic back-ups there - maybe an additional lane along Route 19 as it enters the rotary. I think anything to keep the traffic free-flowing is important. It has been brought to me as an issue from the local first responders. I know that the department, if they can, I am sure, will work to come up with some kind of solution there. So that’s positive to hear.
I’ll leave that issue because I’m satisfied with that. If there is something to be updated on, I’d be happy to communicate that in a positive way if I can, when the time comes.
The next issue I have is the Belle Côte Beach Road. This road is right around the mouth of Margaree Harbour. It’s a road that was owned by the federal government and they were kind enough to give it to us. We’ve got enough roads to worry about. This is a new one. It has not yet been taken over by the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal. I can appreciate that there is probably some reticence to take on another road, especially since the federal government transferred it without really making improvements to bring it up to a nice condition before they did transfer it, but they have the power to do it and they gave it to the Department of Natural Resources, and we’re the proud owners of it now.
The issue is this, there is a meeting on April 11th - next Wednesday - the fishermen are meeting. Last year I was at the meeting, and the year before we were unable to give them any good news on this, so it has been one that has been dragging on for about three years now. The road needs to be accepted by the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal so that it can then become part of the mix of roads in Inverness to be considered for budget allocation. Then there needs to be some budget allocation, even some basic maintenance to the road. Fishing season starts the first of May, but they’ll be busy going to the wharf any time now.
I think this issue is important mainly because it has been dragging on. Perhaps the minister could give us an update, and if there is no progress at this moment, can the minister offer something to be offered to the fishermen for April 11th?
MR. HINES: If you’re going north across the Margaree Bridge, it’s the road that goes to your left. Is that the road? It’s not very long down to the wharf there, right? Yeah. Thought so.
The information that we have is that it is under the administration and control of the department, and last year we actually - when it was in transit - we did supply some work to it, and we’ll certainly take a look to see what can be done in this particular year. You’re talking about before the season opens – it’s not much longer. We haven’t got much time now, but we’ll take a look at it and see what we can do.
MR. MACMASTER: Thank you, I do appreciate that response. I know people working in Transportation who are getting the requests locally haven’t understood that it’s not yet a road under the control of the department, but maybe some clarification can be confirmed with them. I would appreciate anything, and I know the fishermen and fisherwomen there would appreciate anything that can be done. The time is tight, but the sooner the better. I appreciate the spirit of the response from the minister.
The next question I have is - we’re always very glad to see roadwork being done, it’s great to see paving being done. Last summer in Whycocomagh and around Waycobah First Nation, there was paving along the highway. There was some work - a couple of projects happening at the same time. As a result, there was more than one stoppage, and it caused delays for traffic. There are a lot of businesses along that stretch of highway and some of them experienced - at a time of the year when they would usually benefit from a lot of business with tourism - a lot of them suffered economically because of that.
I do understand that roads have to get paved, and they have asked to consider paving at night or in times when the traffic would be less busy. Another thing I would add: when they have these projects, if the department could at least, before they start, reach out to local businesses - I mean, it would show the department does care about the issue. If something can be done, great - but even reaching out would mean a lot.
Sometimes there are practical things that the department or the contractor working on the project can incorporate during the project to make it a little easier on those businesses, so that their businesses aren’t interfered with as much. I’ll let the minister comment.
MR. HINES: Thank you, member, for the advice. I know that section of the Cape Breton Highway No. 105 very well. As a matter of fact, I think the department is now the owner of the former Vi’s Restaurant there, which was a landmark for many, many years. It’s sort of been taken over by Farmer’s Daughter now, who’s doing very well in that area, and so it is a very important commercial area.
Whycocomagh has quite a little commercial activity going on there. It used to be a couple of service stations right there and the Co-op is still there, so I have an idea of the kind of volume that happens through there, and because it does have that retail, it is an important stopping point, both for locals who are going through and tourists that come into the area.
I would signal that the work’s not over yet. Work will involve an improvement in that intersection there, incorporating that Vi’s property, and I think we have another one or two in the area that we can make a good job of improving the safety, in particular, in that area.
Your remarks resonate with me because I was in the seasonal tourism business for many years in this province, and when you start losing a day here and a day there in the tourism business, it has an effect. In terms of what solutions might be, there are instances where we do conduct night work, and it is based on the traffic flow and the expediency that we can get the job done. That is something we will definitely consider in that area. I think that would alleviate part of the problem by working at night.
The other part where I think we can do a little bit better is communication - letting people know, by having either our own construction people or the contractor talk to the businesses, and at least consult them so that they feel they are important and being talked to because at the end of the day, they are important to keep our food chain going. If they are not working, we are not collecting taxes, so we need to be cognizant of that.
I think, on the other side of the coin - and it really relates back to the earlier question about the freeze-thaw and the seasonality - the best time for road building is the same as the best time for business and for tourism in the province. We have that dilemma, and I have to tell you, travelling as you do, Mr. Chairman, you don’t appreciate long construction delays. They just tend to frustrate you as you go forward, but they come with the territory, to some extent, in our province.
I think that we can work to find ways to alleviate that pressure by improving our communication. In particular, these would be some of the levers that you were talking earlier that we have - the communication lever. We can exercise that more thoroughly and communicate our intentions better in the overall process.
We will take into consideration night construction in that area, when we get to making that intersection improvement.
MR. MACMASTER: I’d like to thank the minister for that answer. It’s positive to hear that.
You’ve kind of led into my next question, which is around the intersection at Vi’s. I think there is a plan, at some point, to go back to the community. I know there was a feeling in the community that a traffic light is needed there, but I did caution the community and I said, be careful. Let’s wait until we see the analysis of what the safest solution is. We wouldn’t want to presume that a traffic light is the safest option because if it is not, we may cause an accident, or more than one. Of course, with a traffic light there is also maybe more chance for delays, and we saw what happened last summer with construction, and how much those delays upset some of the business activity.
I have encouraged people to be open, but I do think that the community does have to be involved along the way, and I will make that as a comment.
My last question is around that intersection. I’ll finish the comment by saying that I hope, at some point - perhaps this Spring or during the summer; it’s going to get busy in the summer, I realize, but maybe before that - there will be a chance to have a meeting locally with the community on that issue. If not, perhaps in the Fall, because I know it is one that is on their minds. I will leave that as a comment.
The last question I have has to do with Vi’s. I almost hate to say this, but I was asked yesterday, and I think there is an interest in the community and by the local business organizations - Whycocomagh and the Whycocomagh Development Commission - to have Vi’s and the bookstore torn down.
I know Vi’s is an old building, but I hate to see it go. There’s a lot of history there, but that is the wish that has been communicated to me, and I will communicate it here now because some of the businesses feel that because it’s no longer in operation, it may be better if it comes down.
I know it is now owned by the department, and I will let the minister offer some comment on that. I don’t know if there is a plan to tear the building down, and I thank the minister for answering the questions.
When the minister is finished answering, I will turn it over to my colleague from Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley. Thank you.
MR. HINES: I thank the member for the comments and observations and the question. The program we have put forward in this budget is a commitment to $30 million over seven years to improve safety considerations on the non-twinned highways, and this would be an area where this would qualify.
We are actually doing a project a little bit farther down the road near Baddeck, as the first safety enhancement that we are doing with that particular fund we have. Having said that, it’s not necessarily that we would fund the intersection at Whycocomagh out of that fund, but we would definitely have that as a default, because I think the initial analysis indicates that there is a safety consideration there.
We’re in the planning stages to try to design the type of intersection that would be best suited for that particular area, and given that it is a busy 100-Series Highway that comes into an area of commercial activity with a lot of access and egress in that high-speed section, we’re taking a really close look at how that is going to look.
Two things I can tell the member: first of all, before the end of this year that building will be gone, and before the end of the year there will be a consultation occur in the community around what the department’s plans are for that particular intersection.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley.
MR. LARRY HARRISON: Three questions, minister. We share Moose River Road, what’s the status going to be on that?
MR. HINES: I thank the member opposite for the question. For those listening or watching what we’re doing here, and for the benefit of the members of the House, what the member brings up is very relevant and very important. I’d like people to know what has precipitated - I would really say urgency around the repairs to this road, and that is the revitalization of the Moose River Gold Mines which, as we speak here today, has probably 250 people working at the facility in the mine that’s there. It’s a surface mine, so there’s a lot of extraction going on in the ore, and then in the processing facility that has been set up.
If you think about it - and I’m sure the member would appreciate this - that area went from a very small population, a local population that uses that connection between Route 224 and Highway 7, with the Mooseland community in the middle, just before you get to Moose River, going north, so it really is a local road. The people who were in the area, over time, put up with the condition in the area for that particular road.
We in this government were able to see some road improvements on the section from Highway 7 to the end of the pavement at the road. Then there’s a gap of several kilometres of gravel road and then the pavement started again at Moose River. In Moose River, the scene of a very tragic gold mining fatality - one person ended up losing their life there. There was a rescue of the other two people that were there, and there was an underground collapse in 1936, and that was one of the first uses of the radio, to broadcast that.
The broadcaster, whose name escapes me now, became very famous and the CBC was sort of born and justified over that activity because it had people riveted through the period of several days - 10 days, maybe - before they were able to effect the rescue, and they did lose one particular person. There’s an important cairn that’s there to mark that fatality and that history that’s there, and there’s a beautiful little museum that exists there too.
In that process, and with the introduction of this absolutely world-class gold mine that is there - which by the way, has spawned huge interest in Nova Scotia gold across the region, and is providing good jobs for a great number of people in the area. The company relocated the cairn at their expense, and refurbished the museum.
So it made that more important in the process, but we have this really bad piece of trail that exists between the Moose River Gold Mines site and Route 224 back up to Musquodoboit, and as that particular mine evolved over the last 10, 12 years - and it must be at least 10, 12 years that it has taken to develop that, which is not an unusual timeline for those kinds of developments - the natural migration of the people working in the area was really to the Truro and Musquodoboit Valley area and up to the airport through Route 224 in through that way.
We had this situation where there was increased traffic on this piece of formal road that formerly wasn’t used very much. There were some local activities there, the church camp and the other museum that exists in there celebrating the Icelandic heritage that we have in the province, which I have to tell you, I didn’t know about until I actually met with them. They put up their hand and said, “you know, we’re here too and we would appreciate the improved circumstance.”
There has been a whole focus on that particular piece of road and in the midst of all that, two years ago, we had a major slope failure which washed out a significant portion of the road, which really had not seen any significant work in quite a long period of time.
That’s the scenario that we have. For the department, it was a bit of a dilemma, because this area went from zero to 60 in a period of two years once the construction started.
What we have in this budget for this year and the tender - I know I haven’t signed it yet, but we’re expecting to get it out very shortly - for this year is to go in and pulverize the entire 17 kilometres - so it’s a significant stretch – pulverize that in this season completely, and take it back to a gravel condition and then next year, seeing how far we can go with a repave, and get as far as we can, and then in the second year, finish it. In the likelihood that we would attempt to resurface, year one is the pulverization, the entire 17 kilometres.
Year two would be half of that, let’s say, but we might get some more, and then in the third year, finish that road. What that will do for the communities affected will help the workers and the people locally who use that access, but I know that the people in Mooseland are very anxious to see that done because it does create a new loop through there.
Currently we have Route 224 from Sheet Harbour up through to Musquodoboit and this will create another viable route through a lovely area, near the Tangier wilderness, up through and into hitting the Route 224 in Musquodoboit - I’m not sure which of the Musquodoboits it is, but it’s one of them, so it will create a new route.
It will service the 200 people who are going to be employed at that mine, many of whom live in the Musquodoboit Valley area. Some do commute to Tangier and Sheet Harbour. I think there’s a significant amount who go the other way. I think there are around 250 working there now, but that’s because they haven’t got the mine finished, there are a lot of those who are members of the contractor company that is doing the work. I think the operating level of employees at that facility is around 200.
That’s our plan, Mr. Chairman, for resolving that particular situation.
MR. HARRISON: That was my understanding, that that kind of work was going to be done this year, and then the pavement will take place in a year or two. I’ve tried to prepare them for that. Now, whether they are going to be completely happy - probably not - but I tried to prepare them for that scenario.
The second thing is the gravel roads, especially in the Upper Stewiacke area, there are a lot of them that are in extremely bad shape. Are any of those going to be gravelled this year?
MR. HINES: The roads that are in that area - I’m not sure what the split is - Mooseland Road, that I mentioned that may be in my riding; I’m not sure because you and I are neighbours there, right on the corner, and I do have a piece of gravel road in there, from the end of the pavement at Mooseland to the beginning of the pavement, I think, in Moose River, so there’s that.
In total, I believe in that area which is mostly in your riding, I believe there’s over 13 kilometres of gravel road scheduled, but it exists in the five-year plan. If the member would like to take a look at that, he would be able to see with certainty what gravel roads are scheduled for his constituency.
MR. HARRISON: Thank you, minister. Just one more concern is the weight restrictions, not so much on the outlying roads, but very close to Truro, there are a lot of small businesses, like the Valleydale Road going from Truro to Greenfield, for instance - a lot of small businesses there. Some of them need to move equipment from one spot to another in order to conduct business. Has any thought been given to giving some exemptions for those small businesses to operate?
MR. HINES: The spring weight restrictions are an annual punishment that we go through in the province, and are seen as a punishment by business.
It makes us more inefficient because - and I want to focus in on the forestry industry for a moment and how important it is to our rural areas - they are forced to reduce their loads to acceptable limits on roads that are often listed as closed roads, because they are out in the rural areas and that’s where the trees are. It’s a little bit less of an impact on the fishery industry in the north and eastern parts of the province, because it’s not as busy at that particular time.
We, as a department, are fairly rigid about that particular requirement. The roads were closed early - as early this year as I think they have ever been, and that threw people off a bit because they weren’t expecting it, but with the freeze-thaw cycle that we had, our department, who were out testing the roads and the ability of the roads to carry loads all the time, ran the red flag up and said you have to do this. That has happened and the reopening will be a function of how quickly they dry up. Usually as we move into April that happens.
In terms of mitigation on that, there is a process whereby the department is approachable, on an exceptional permit basis, to issue permits - not very many, as it has to be an exceptional basis - for one-time moves when the situation warrants it. Also, if it’s - and we’ve had lots since we closed the roads, we’ve had a lot of cold nights, well below freezing, and so the roads set up again, and it is safe then to travel on them with loads that would normally be there when the roads are not closed.
What I would suggest is to work locally, as those permits are in the purview of the area manager, with your businesses, with the on-the-ground personnel and see if that can be done.
I will say categorically that general exemptions - we can’t do it because it would risk the integrity of the road system, which we are always very concerned about. We know that if we inadvertently allow heavy loads on roads that are not able to take it then we are going to cause more damage and cause more trouble for people than there otherwise would be.
It’s a bit of strong medicine, particularly for certain sectors of the economy, but we don’t see any real significant way around that, other than if the road is significantly used for heavy loads, we’d be prepared to work with the member and with the local people to provide strengthening in the road and get it up to the stage where, like many of the trunks and routes, they do remain open during a road closure.
MR. HARRISON: I do understand the premise of why that is in place. Would the thought be that where so many businesses are affected, that the road could be brought up to standard so that it could take that kind of weight?
By the way, I did already phone a gentleman yesterday, and I told him to contact the area manager and they are going to get in contact to see if they can work something out for his business - just to transport some equipment out, so that is going to be done.
One more thing just hit me. Route 289 is a road that is used by a lot of trucks and tractors. Is there any thought to, when those roads are redone, that they could be widened in order to accommodate? The tractors now are huge and the wheels go over the pavement, they’re on the shoulder and even, in some cases, close to the ditch. Is there any thought to widening those roads for the trucks and the tractors in those areas?
MR. HINES: I thank the member for the question. I guess that as the opportunity arises, when we’re doing a particular section, we try to look at whether or not it warrants widening. We would look at the traffic counts we would have, which are conducted so we know what the volumes are.
This particular section of road is fairly popular. I know it well, and I would encourage the member to do exactly what he is doing, to bring it up, to bring it to the attention of the department either at the senior level, which are local people, so that when scheduled repair is being done on those roads the issue can be incorporated in at that particular time. We do this based on the traffic volumes that may be occurring in the situation.
It obviously makes all kinds of sense to do that when you are doing additional paving because your mobilization costs are all in there and you can get better bang for your buck, as it were, doing it at that time. So, if you have roads that you are getting feedback on, that are in that situation - I think Route 289 is a popular truck route through there - by bringing it up, we can take a look at it and see if there’s an opportunity we’re doing some work there to widen the thoroughfare.
MR. HARRISON: I’m going to hand it over now to my colleague.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Argyle-Barrington.
HON. CHRISTOPHER D’ENTREMONT: Merci beaucoup, M. le président. I don’t have a lot of time to talk about all the great things happening in southwest Nova Scotia, but I will try to pick a couple of the important spots. One that I already asked a question about in the House of Assembly revolved around the Cape Island causeway. There has been some work going on at the Cape Island causeway. They’ve been doing some geotechnical, some drilling. The drill rig has been there. I think it’s done, I’m not sure.
I’m just wondering what the department’s next steps are going to be to ensure that the structure we have there, that I believe was built in 1949, will remain the same structure, because there’s a couple of dips in it that people are worried about, that undermining is starting to happen to the structures. So, the Cape Island causeway.
MR. HINES: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I thank the member for both the question and the persistence around this particular issue. It’s very important to the department, I can assure the member, because of the significant population that that particular causeway feeds. It’s a very important and unique contributor to our fishery industry in that part of the province, or any part of the province, for that matter.
As the member has indicated, we’re in the field investigation stage. We don’t have the full investigation completed, but I would expect now that we’re starting to move into the Spring that will be done. The preliminary indication is that there’s going to have to be a significant injection of armourstone there, which probably would be the overall requirement, but once we get the field investigation done, we have to design a comprehensive solution.
We’ll move into that design phase just as soon as we have the geotech information and I can assure the member that this is a priority for us to investigate that fully, and come up with something that will ensure the integrity of the access and egress of that community via the causeway.
MR. D’ENTREMONT: All right, let me throw a curveball into this because it’s always fun to throw curveballs. The local community, as they’re watching this - and I would say probably as long as I’ve been an MLA, I’ve heard this talked about by the municipal council, and I know you probably had that municipal council come in to see you not so long ago, and I think the mayor or the warden mentioned it to you then.
The possibility of a bridge so that water could actually flow through the structure because history will show - and I know I have somebody from Wedgeport up in the gallery today, Ghislain just reminded me of this - herring no longer flows along the shore there. It doesn’t come down by Sand Hills and Villagedale, flow through where that causeway was built back in the early 1950s, late 1940s, and therefore allow that herring to go through to Doctors Cove and Shag Harbour up to Wedgeport where we had the international tuna festival that they were there feeding on the mackerel and the herring. What’s also happening is that the sands that would be to the eastern side of Cape Island, and on the other side towards Villagedale, all those sands are now coming up against the structure.
On that eastern side of that causeway, we now have a huge sandbar that’s moved itself in. Now, there’s a wharf there that soon will be cut off from the ocean because of that sediment getting backed up against it.
As much as I don’t want to say, “go and build a bridge, Mr. Minister, please,” because I know the extreme cost of that, while we’re thinking about it, as we’re looking at what this phase is, to shore up the structure, then maybe we can look at the possibility, in the future, that this is how we would attack the issue of actually allowing water flow through that. It doesn’t require an answer at this point.
You and I will talk about this at another time, and I know that I have a great relationship with your staff, with Greg Newell, with Don Houston, with Bill and Pam and the rest of the gang in Yarmouth. I do get answers when I need them.
This one is a little bigger than them, as they try to consider what to do with that structure. It is coming from the community, wondering what to do. Is there a possibility of opening that up to allow the environmental degradation that’s happened there over the years to try to come back?
The next couple of quick issues are just simply this. Trucks turning into wharf roads. Camp Cove Wharf is at an angle to the No. 3. This is in Argyle. A lot of lobsters come out of there. A lot of trucks come in there. There’s nowhere for them to turn around at the bottom of the road. Therefore, they’ve got to come in at a different angle. They’re off the road all the time. As the trucks flip around at 52 feet, their back ends are basically in the ditch. They’re ruining the turn in the Camp Cove Wharf. That’s one.
The Jacquard Road in Wedgeport has the same issue. They are turning into the Wedgeport Wharf, and they can’t get around the corner. I know the councillor there has asked a number of times, is there a way to make it a little bit bigger so the trucks can actually get around them?
The other issue is Barrington Villagedale Road - I forget the number of the road. That one comes at a stupid angle to Highway 3 as well. Trucks actually have to go through a dirt road - I forget what it is called, just up the road - and they are beating that road all to heck during cut-off season. It’s just too hard for them to get around that Villagedale Road.
I know I had a discussion with Steve when he was the area manager. But we haven’t got any further since that time, because he has moved on. What program would allow the widening of some of these intersections so that trucks, as they are built today, can get around them?
MR. HINES: I appreciate the member bringing the matter forward. In a general answer, it would be part of our capital improvement program, so it would have to make the list and all that sort of thing.
I just inquired as to whether any of the receiving roads are gravel roads, and if they were (Interruption) Both intersections? (Interruption) So down with that one, then.
I guess what we would have to do is be made aware of them. Having said that, we can start working towards improving the turning radiuses. That’s what we’re talking about here. The roads weren’t built for trucks that didn’t exist when they were built. Now the turning radiuses are too tight to accommodate those 53-footers that are coming through there.
So step one, Mr. Chairman, was accomplished today. I would perhaps suggest that the member give me a written submission identifying these particular opportunities and work with our local people. We’ll get them to bubble up to our system and take the opportunity to try and address that reasonable request.
MR. D’ENTREMONT: I know once my time is done, there are three minutes left for him to read his resolutions and maybe do a cleanup. I’ll waste the next minute for you and thank him and his staff for coming in today.
I notice some people think, as we take up our time here asking questions about roads, it seems like a bit of a waste because we do have a good department. We have a great department that can answer lots of questions. Whether I’m calling about Mike’s road or whether I’m trying to get gravel, normally the staff is really good in answering. I want to thank the staff and make sure that he passes on his thanks to his staff that they are doing a good job. All I can ask is for them to keep that up.
Some of these projects I have submitted before, and hopefully they’ll bubble up as we go along. I want to thank the minister and his staff for being here today and answering these questions on behalf of all our caucuses on roads that are so important to us.
MR. HINES: I want to thank the members opposite for the great exchange that I think we have had today. We’ll certainly endeavour to get as much of this stuff accomplished as we possibly can, given the circumstances that we’re in.
I really appreciate the relationship, and I really appreciate the kind remarks about our staff. We have 2,200 people. They are all hard-working, committed individuals. It is through working with them that we are able to accomplish these things that we are able to do.
I want to thank everybody for their input today, and I want to thank the staff that I have here. We have recorded everything that has gone on, and we are going to be looking at what we can accomplish here.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Shall Resolution E39 stand?
The resolution stands.
Resolution E49 – Resolved, that the business plan of Nova Scotia Lands Inc. and Harbourside Commercial Park Inc. be approved.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Shall Resolution E49 carry?
The resolution is carried.
We will take a short recess, with 40 seconds left before we close, just to clarify the resolution.
[6:55 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[6:56 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: I call the committee back to order.
Resolution E46 – Resolved, that the business plan of the Halifax-Dartmouth Bridge Commission be approved.
MR. CHAIRMAN: That concludes the time for debate in Supply today. We will take a short recess while we wait for the Subcommittee on Supply to finish in the Red Room.
[6:57 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[7:03 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: I now call the committee back to order.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. GEOFF MACLELLAN: Mr. Chairman, I move that the committee do now rise and report progress and beg leave to sit again.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The motion is carried.
[The committee adjourned at 7:03 p.m.]