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OPINION: One finger in a leaky dike

Published on

George Mathewson

Growing up I was fond of the story of the Little Dutch Boy, who was walking home from school one day and spotted water leaking from a small hole in a dike.

Sticking his finger in the hole until the big people could arrive, he stopped the trickle from becoming a stream and the stream from becoming flood and saved his country from destruction.

The lesson? Think quick and even those with limited strength and resources can avert disaster.

Sarnia has yet to come to grips with its own leaking dike, and, sad to say, it’s a predicament that could make the cost of restoring Centennial look like a walk in the park.

Parts of the shoreline in Bright’s Grove are in such poor repair there is a growing risk the next big Lake Huron storm could wash away sections of land. But fixing it will take big dollars, as in the tens of millions.

One of the more vulnerable areas is Old Lakeshore Road between Helen and Kenwick streets, near Bright’s Grove public school.

Most of the seawall holding the lake back along that 660-metre stretch is shot or leaning, and all of the groynes in the water, which are designed to hold the beach in place, should be replaced immediately, according to an engineering report commissioned by the St. Clair Region Conservation Authority.

The report isn’t new. It was shelved in draft form for lack of money in 2012 when water levels were low and the risk seemed remote.

But Lake Huron is on the rise and those in the know are getting worried.

Historically, Sarnia’s shoreline protection projects have been funded 50/50 with the Conservation Authority. But the Authority’s applications for government assistance the past two years were turned down, leaving the city with its finger in the dike.

A surprise storm that ruined Halloween for trick-or-treaters last October was also a rude awakening for many lakefront property owners.

Surging waters uprooted and hauled off trees, damaged decks and swept away lawn chairs. And a large chunk of public shoreline collapsed into the lake and disappeared near the mouth of the Cull Drain after waves breached and ripped out the rusty seawall.

“It’s pretty bad,” conceded city engineer Andre Morin, who is preparing a report on the failing shoreline for city council this fall.

“We’re struggling with this. What are the worst areas? And what do we have to do immediately so we don’t lose more road and infrastructure?”

Unfortunately, those are multi-million dollar questions for a cash-strapped city already struggling to balance the books.













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