Port Elgin takes part in coastal workshop

Port Elgin takes part in coastal workshop

Published Thursday February 17th, 2011

Planning commission takes group through issues impacting the community

by meg edwards
times & transcript staff

PORT ELGIN – Residents of Port Elgin were invited to attend a coastal workshop hosted by Tantramar District Planning Commission on Tuesday night.

Tracey Wade, a planner with TDPC, led the approximately 25 people participating in the workshop through seven steps to assess the coastal issues and climate-change impact in Port Elgin. In introductory remarks, Wade said that they were working on collecting real data on the effect of the storm surges.

Participants were guided to discuss how events such as storm surges, intense rainfall, sea ice, increased waves, coastal erosion and flooding had affected their village. Table-sized maps and questionnaires were filled with notes to be studied by the Planning Commission following the workshop.

Pamphlets from the Insurance Bureau of Canada that warned homeowners that “Canada’s increasingly severe weather means that basement flooding and water damage are becoming more common,” gave a realistic edge to Wade’s cursory reminder that global warming was causing higher sea levels and more fierce tropical cyclone-like storms.

The workshop was attended by Mayor Judy Scott, as well as councillors Tanya Trenholm and Joanne Trenholm and Deputy Mayor Val MacDermid. Public Works employee Gordie Butcher, Terry Murphy, Head of Emergency Measures for the village and environmentalist and Port Elgin resident Toni Roberts were also in attendance. Other participants included specialists in coastal erosion and mapping such as Dr. David Lieske, a professor of geography and environment from Mount Allison University and Tom Johnson, representing his own company Mojo Mapping and GIS Services (geographic information systems).

Also attending was Laurie Collette, regional director from the Department of the Environment, who said that there are rural highways up the coast from Port Elgin that are going to have to be relocated further inland, possibly in the next few years.

In terms of protecting the coastline from further erosion, Collette says that the piling of large boulders along the coast, as the federal government recently did to protect the national landmark lighthouse on Fort Gaspareaux in Port Elgin, only works to hold back erosion if it is done consistently. Any section of the coast without a rock border will erode at an even faster rate than normal.

The solutions that emerged from the workshop represented the broad spectrum of the participants, from scientists and environmentalists to the ordinary homeowners worrying about protecting their land. While some members proposed banning any further development on coastal properties, others defended their right to build a cottage on their own land at their own risk.

Port Elgin homeowner Patsy Murphy, whose house was flooded in the January 2010 storm surge, was in support of taking some action against the encroaching sea, such as building up breakwaters and maintaining the cribbing along the river. In contrast, Sabine Dietz, past executive director of the Cape Jourimain Nature Centre, said that villages in Europe that built up the walls of the rivers running through their towns found that the flooding only increased in intensity and caused more destruction.

“The best plan is to let the river have the land that it needs,” says Dietz.

Murphy does not agree, saying that those who mentioned relocating the village as a solution were “jumping the gun.”

Although she does not deny the reality of rising oceans and global warming, Murphy argues that there has been only one flood in Port Elgin in 100 years.

Participant Katie Friars, executive director of EOS Eco-Energy said that the workshop went really well, and that it was good to have everyone sitting around the table looking at the long-term sustainability of the community. Building up the dykes and cribwork are good temporary solutions, says Friars, and in the end it will be “more cost effective to be proactive about the situation than reactive.”

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