Halifax streets in a hole lot of trouble

As spring arrives, Haligonians are facing an entirely new obstacle on the road.

Halifax has had a late-blooming winter this year and as a result, spring has been postponed indefinitely. Two snowstorms in the middle of March had the city reverting back to a White Juan mentality and reminiscing about simpler, snowless December days. On the plus side, it’s supposed to be 10 degrees on Monday.

As the snow finally begins to melt and layers of ice that have covered the streets since mid-January begin to disappear, Haligonians find themselves facing an entirely new problem — potholes.

The Halifax Regional Municipality website says potholes form when the topmost layer of a street’s asphalt wears away, leaving a sizeable gap to the rest of the asphalt underneath. They tend to pop up near the end of winter and beginning of spring, after the pavement has spent a few months in a freeze/thaw cycle. These dents in the road can be hard to spot and are often unavoidable unless the driver swerves into an oncoming lane.

Like the thick layers of uneven, pavement-warping ice that came before them, potholes have been wreaking havoc on vehicles in the city.

Car trouble

Anna Cormier has seen what potholes can do to a car first-hand. While driving in Halifax, Cormier and a friend hit a pothole off Barrington Street, near Casino Nova Scotia.

“Immediately the air was gone from her tire,” Cormier writes in a Facebook message. “We quickly pulled over and luckily her girlfriend was with us and she knew how to change a tire. So she put on the spare, and everything worked out.”

Other drivers have not been so lucky. In some cases, they haven’t had a spare tire and in others, the damage has been more severe. A new winter tire can cost upwards of $100, depending on the brand and type of car it’s made for.

HRM crews at work

Street crews dispatched by the city are working to remedy the city’s poor road conditions. In 2011, municipal operations acquired an asphalt recycler. The tool gives workers easier access to hot asphalt, which had not been the case during winter months in previous years. Hot asphalt allows for street repairs to be made that are less likely to break up over time.

HRM says pothole repairs are prioritized according to the volume of traffic on a street. Potholes on main streets (such as Agricola, Barrington, Oxford and Robie) that are more than eight centimetres deep are the highest priority. The city aims to fix them within seven business days. The same size potholes on local roads are supposed to be fixed within 30 business days. Potholes less than eight centimetres deep are attended to “as resources permit.”

Concerned city-goers can report potholes via a 311 online service request on the city’s website.

In the meantime, Haligonians can take comfort in the fact that potholes, at least, are a sign of spring.

Halifax News Digest: March 30 – April 2

Other news from around the peninsula, as reported by other media outlets.

Bedford Institute of Oceanography nets $3.5-million in funding for structure upgrades (Metro News)

The Bedford Institute of Oceanography will receive funding as part of the government’s $5.8-billion plan to rebuild infrastructure across the country. The money will allow the institute to upgrade the older buildings, some of which are more than 50 years old. Most of the funds will come from the fisheries department, with a smaller contribution from Natural Resources Canada.

Open Sesame! Officials investigating late-night wanderers at new Halifax library (Metro News)

An investigation is underway after four people entered the new Halifax Central Library late Friday night. A witness said that they were outside the library at around 2 a.m. Friday and were surprised to see a young couple walk in through the unlocked doors. The couple said that there were already people inside when they entered, and the security team at the library acknowledges that security footage shows unauthorized people in the library at approximately 2 a.m.

Damaged N.S. tall ship towed inshore after difficult rescue at sea (CTV News Atlantic)

A tall ship from Nova Scotia is now moored near Portsmouth, New Hampshire, according the U.S. Coast Guard. After the ship experienced engine trouble and problems with the mainsail, the captain called for help. No one aboard the ship was injured. All nine crew members were rescued by a coast guard boat.

Maritime Reptile Zoo to close (CBC News Nova Scotia)

The Maritime Reptile Zoo has announced on its Facebook page that it’s closing, citing financial problems. Nova Scotia’s harsh winter has been hard on local businesses, and the zoo’s Facebook page says that the weather has left them “unable to recover.” All the animals are alive and well and are being relocated to other facilities in Nova Scotia and Ontario.

Transit tweets roll in: Halifax Transit hosts digital town hall (Metro News)

Halifax Transit’s recent meeting at city hall encouraged Twitter users to make their voices heard using the hashtag #maketransitbetter. Some suggested that Mayor Mike Savage try using the transit system. Other suggestions included on-transit wifi, buses that run later in the evening, and consequences for people smoking at bus stops.

Bus driver helps Keiko the dog get home (The Chronicle Herald)

A two-year-old husky named Keiko jumped the fence surrounding her home and was found dodging traffic by someone waiting for the bus, who held onto her until the bus arrived. The driver, Gerry O’Donnell, bent the rules and brought Keiko on to the bus, where the dog remained well-behaved and sat looking out the window until O’Donnell finished her shift. O’Donnell brought Keiko to her home and the dog was reunited with her owner through the Nova Scotia Lost Dog Network Facebook page, where the post has since gone viral.

Winter-weary Haligonians spring for getaways

Following two late winter storms, travel agencies in Halifax say they’re seeing a huge increase in inquiries.

By the time Haligonians rang in the new year at the end of December, Nova Scotia had seen grand total of only three centimetres of snow, according to Environment Canada. This was perhaps seen as a good omen; a suggestion that it would be a mild winter overall. But in the months that followed, winter returned with a vengeance.

As March comes to an end, some travel agents say business is better than ever as more and more Haligonians are looking to get away.

“I have been completely swamped this year and there is definitely an increase in people enquiring about packages,” Joanne Roberts, an associate at Flight Centre, writes in an email. She says that despite prices for package vacations being higher this year, many packages are still being booked. 

The numbers

#SnovaScotia is real. The Coast said it best:

The “mess” refers to the massive snowstorm that walloped the Maritimes on March 18, only three days after a previous storm.

By comparison, the severity of Nova Scotia’s winter in the first few months of 2015 has been worse than any in recent years. For example, March 2014 saw 36.8 centimetres of snowfall on the province. This year on March 18 alone, Halifax saw a snowfall amount of 48 centimetres. Nova Scotia received 111.3 centimetres this March — three times the amount of last March.

Environment Canada reports that over the first three months of 2015, Nova Scotia saw 301.3 centimetres of snow, or just under 10 feet.

Halifax’s brutal winter has been a hot topic for online communities. CBC’s 22 Minutes even poked fun at the recent storms.

Haligonians searching for the sun

Blair Jerrett, senior director at Maritime Travel, says that they are still in the midst of a busy booking season. He also says that many of their agencies report an increase in inquires about travel packages in the days after storms.

“Without a doubt, we find that weather does have an effect on how busy our offices get in the winter,” Jerrett writes in an email. “Back-to-back snowstorms like the ones we’ve been having the past two months have caused many people —who previously may not have been planning to head south— to consider a last-minute getaway.”

Jerrett says the most popular destinations are the direct, all-inclusive packages in places like Cuba, Dominican Republic, and Mexico.

Roberts says that cottage rentals in the Maritimes are also booking up faster than usual. She urges people to plan their ‘getaways’ now.

The rest of us will remain in Halifax, trying to remember what grass looks like.

Local author digs deep into mystery on Oak Island

Author and retired miner John O’Brien connects Nova Scotia’s Oak Island to the ancient Aztecs.

For more than 200 years, Oak Island off the coast of Mahone Bay has been at the centre of a mystery that has attracted international attention, all because of what is supposedly buried along its shores. Following the discovery of the Money Pit (a massive, man-made pit thought to be the location of buried treasure) in 1795, the mystery of Oak Island has fascinated the world.

On Wednesday evening, the second floor theatre of the Discovery Centre on Barrington Street was full as local author and retired miner John OBrien described his attempt to understand whats buried on Oak Island and how it got there. His new book, Oak Island Unearthed, explains his theories and claims to offer evidence to back them up.

“The evidence that they have, the carbon-dating and what not, has totally, almost been ignored. It’s so hard to put the puzzle together,” said O’Brien, who has been interested in the mystery of Oak Island since he was a child.

The Money Pit has been central to the treasure hunt since it was first discovered. An intricate system of rock and lumber, OBrien explained its composition using a glass of water and a plastic straw. He said that the unearthing of the pit is what allowed the ocean water that had been kept out since its construction to finally flood inside. He also said that this was done to deter any treasure hunters, and that the pit is a distraction from where the treasure is really hidden.

“There was tons of coconut fibres found on both surface and underground…this is the only indication of where these people came from,” said O’Brien. “Coconut fibre don’t come from the Vikings. It don’t come from Europe. It comes from the south.”

OBriens theory on the mystery dates all the way back to the time of the Aztecs, when he says the ancient kingdom was looking for a place to hide precious artifacts from incoming Spanish invaders. He believes that hiding place was Oak Island. O’Brien suggests that the Aztecs had previously discovered the island while searching for a type of blue clay that they highly valued and was easily accessible from the shore. 

“There’s no way they’re going to hide it close by… so they picked a place in its history. They had a pigment called Mayan blue. They used it to paint their pyramids, their temples. Anyway, I’m down on Oak Island, being a mining man, and I’m watching the drilling that’s going on there… they kept hitting this blue clay.”

Toward the end of the presentation, an audience member asked why OBrien was so eager to share the location that he believed to be the site of the treasure.

“Nobody’s ever solved the mystery of Oak Island,” answered O’Brien. “I don’t have the money to get a company to go down there and do that. I just wanted to… put my idea out. I’m not hiding anything. It’s there, that’s where I say it is. Someday if they do some work and it’s there, they’ll say, ‘Hey, that guy was right.’ That’s probably all I’ll get out of it.”

Nowadays, the island is privately owned, and OBrien says that legal and financial restrictions could restrict any treasure on the island from ever being discovered, if there is even one to find. But he seems confident that there is something worth looking for on the island.

Nobody would do that much work,OBrien said, to hide marbles.