Troy Shantz & George Mathewson
Sarnia needs to spend $2 million a year for the next 10 years to save the Lake Huron shoreline or face “catastrophic” property losses, the city’s engineering director warns.
“Our needs currently outweigh our ability to repair,” David Jackson noted in a sobering report to council last week, which identifies $30 million in badly needed shoreline protection work, mostly in Bright’s Grove.
Since December 19, crews have made emergency repairs to 11 places where seawalls failed and land was exposed to eroding wave action.
City staff is still assessing the damage done by high winds and waves on Oct. 17 that wreaked havoc on multiple sections of shore and sections of Old Lakeshore Road, which is increasingly at risk of being washed away.
“All of these areas have been city owned and (the repairs) deemed necessary to prevent or repair catastrophic loss of property,” Jackson said.
The city currently budgets about $600,000 a year for shoreline protection. That’s roughly what’s been spent just on quick fixes this year.
With lake levels high and the winter storm season approaching, residents should expect more breaches and erosion, staff warn.
City council will debate the $20-million staff request during budget deliberations in December. But some councillors served notice last week they’re already prepared to bite the bullet and spend big dollars on Sarnia’s failing infrastructure. (Continued below)
Coun. Mike Stark went one better than the engineer’s request, saying he wants $2.25 million earmarked annually for shoreline work over the next decade.
“This really is no different than previous councils taking a disciplined approach to debt reduction,” he said. “A similar commitment of that nature is now required to tackle the infrastructure deficit.”
Coun. Margaret Bird wants to borrow $35 million from Infrastructure Ontario to build a wall along the entire length of Bright’s Grove.
Stones and backfill are Band-Aids, she said. “All it takes is another bad storm or two, and more of the strong north winds, and everything will be ripped out again,” she said.
St. Clair Regional Conservation Authority secured federal Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Funds (DMAF) earlier this year totalling $8 million over nine years.
About $5 million of that will go toward Sarnia’s shoreline priorities, the staff report said.
The money will be used for armour stone-fortified groynes and revetments, similar to those already in place and securing the shore in parts of Bright’s Grove.
If Sarnia does commit to spending $2 million next year it could be matched by DMAF funding of $1.33 million, staff said, resulting in a total investment of $3.3 million in 2020.