Dean Oderkirk remembers seeing an odd-looking hole in the ditch beside the Trans-Canada Highway near Oxford when it was being twinned nearly three decades ago.
The longtime Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal Department employee was driving a truck, hauling material to the construction site when he saw the hole. He reported the hole, which was filled in and the highway completed.
He’s not surprised the hole is back and worries what could be underneath it and the westbound lane of the Trans-Canada Highway that opened as part of the twinning of the 104 highway in 1993.
“I think people should be concerned and it should be looked at,” said the retired Oderkirk, now 77 and living in the Wallace area. “It might be nothing, but it wouldn’t take much of a sinkhole to kill or hurt someone. Even if it’s only two feet in diameter or two feet deep it could kill a dozen people.”
Oderkirk said many in the Oxford area know of the potential for sinkholes, the most notorious of which opened late last August and closed the Lions Park.
Earlier this week, Cumberland-Colchester MP Bill Casey called on both the provincial and federal transportation departments to fund a study of the land under the highway that runs between Truro and Amherst to make sure it’s stable and prepare a plan should the soil be at risk of sinkhole development.
Casey said he has seen the depression in the westbound lane of the highway and its proximity to other sinkholes in the area and pointed out the sinkhole that developed in the Lions Park last summer is in a direct line with the depression under the highway and other sinkholes on the other side of the Trans-Canada.
Oderkirk said when he saw the latest depression forming several years ago he thought about whether he should speak up or keep it to himself. After the sinkhole opened up in the park, he decided his conscience wouldn’t let him stay quiet.
“There was a hole in the ditch and I knew it was a sinkhole area. The next day it was bigger and decided not to get too close to it,” he said. “I figured it went about 10 feet deep. I told the inspectors and the engineers looked at it. There’s another sinkhole right behind it, on the other side of the Gabion fence that’s still there.”
He thinks the department filled the hole in the ditch and it seemed to work until recently when he noticed the depression in the westbound lane.
“If you have a depression in the middle of the road and you keep putting stuff in it and it keeps going down, and you’re in an area known for sinkholes, it might be something you’d want to check. It may not be serious, but you’d still want to check it to make sure,” Oderkirk said. “I respect Bill for what he’s trying to do.”
The Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal Department has indicated it has yet to find any defects that would be cause for concern, although minister Lloyd Hines said the province is monitoring the highway.
“Nova Scotians should understand that we’re constantly monitoring all our highways for any kinds of problems, sinkholes or subsidence that may occur. That section is no different and we’re watching it very closely,” Hines said Thursday. “We’re gathering data to determine if there’s any action that needs to be taken.”
Hines said the LIDAR information hasn’t been analyzed as of yet, but he said the department would be quick to react should anything happen to impact the highway and protect its infrastructure.
The minister said he’s sympathetic to the situation faced by the Oxford Lions and shares the concern raised by Casey.
Casey said it’s vital for both departments to follow through.
“I don’t know what the risk is, but the consequences of a collapse would be horrific,” the MP said. “We have comments from the people who built the road and information from GHD, who did the original study of the sinkhole in the park, we have the depression on the highway and the aerial photos that show it was built right over top of two sinkholes. There’s enough evidence there to support further study. It should be thoroughly investigated.”
Casey said he hasn’t received a response from federal minister Marc Garneau, but he’s confidence the federal government will come to the table if asked by the province.
“Highways are a provincial responsibility, but I will do everything I can to ensure they will get some cost-sharing, but there’s no guarantee of that. This is a safety and trade issue, but it’s mostly a safety issue.”