The provincial government’s plan to remove sections of a vital but eroding sand dune along Crescent Beach could have detrimental and irreparable effects on the local ecosystem, says a senior Ecology Action Centre researcher.

“It’s a perfect little dune system but that dune is basically what’s keeping the adjacent road protected from storm surge and sea level rise,” said Nancy Anningson, coastal adaptation senior coordinator with the centre.

Since early August a group of local residents, Friends of Crescent Beach, have been seeking answers regarding the Transportation Department’s plan to expand a section of Crescent Beach Road in Lunenburg County, which would involve removing an entire section of a 300-metre long stretch of narrow dune serving as a vital natural weather barrier.

Anningson and the group wants to know exactly how much of the dune will be removed and when the project will start, but thus far they have not gotten answers.

Late last week, the group was caught off guard after discovering the grass covering the dune had been mowed — as well as the grass on the side of the road opposite the dunes — in preparation for the road work.

“It’s very short-sighted of them to expand the road by negatively impacting the dune which will guarantee that road will not exist for an extended period of time,” said Anningson.

“The dune is held in place by vegetation that absorbs wind, wave energy. But we’re seeing such great increase in sea level rise and these extreme weather events. We need those dunes more than we ever have.”

Furthermore, Anningson said the proposed degradation of the dune flies in the face of the Environment Department’s pledge to protect coastal land

“Ecology Action Centre is in support of (the Environment Department) as they develop a Coastal Protection Act for Nova Scotia,” she said. “We are deeply concerned that while that work is underway, (Transportation) is actively damaging crucial segments of that same coastline.”

The Transportation Department wouldn’t say exactly how much of the dune would be removed beyond a maximum of 1.5 metres at the road surface level. Department spokeswoman Marla MacInnis said the excavation was necessary to re-establish the existing road surface in order to allow for repaving. She said the road itself would not be expanded.

No timetable was given for construction. But MacInnis said the tender had just closed for work that will include repaving, culvert replacements, shoreline protection maintenance to the catch basins, and bridge repairs.

Peter Romkey, a Friends of Crescent Beach board member, said the group is not attempting to stop the road work. The beach area resident says it’s badly needed but adequate consultation is required.

“Our intent wasn’t to try to stop them,” said Romkey. “We just want to have a conversation about what’s going to be done.”

Romkey said the group’s director was in contact with the project’s engineer on Friday and was told more updates would be coming. He said the board was shocked to see the dune had been mowed down last week.

“We need to talk about this, you can’t treat this like a road in New Germany or a road in Waverley,” he said. “It’s got to be dealt with in a little more thoughtful way.

“The beaches and the sand dunes are so important down here and some people in our government fail to realize that. But if that beach goes and we end up with a big rock barrier protecting the road it’s going to be more work for the Department of Transportation. It’s going to ruin why we live here.”