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Waterfront situation could become ‘catastrophic’

This photo, taken last July, indicates a crumbling wall in front of the Niagara Pumphouse Arts Centre that needs repairing, but it is not considered a priority.
This photo, taken last July, indicates a crumbling wall in front of the Niagara Pumphouse Arts Centre that needs repairing, but it is not considered a priority. (Penny Coles)

A discussion at the Town’s planning committee meeting Monday night identified the need for shoreline protection in the Dock Area as a priority, and a situation that could become catastrophic.

A week ago Ron Simkus, a Dock Area resident and mining engineer compiling data on the rising lake level, also predicted the situation becoming catastrophic if the level continues to rise. Since Friday, Lake Ontario has jumped more than another two inches, most of the increase due to the Niagara River lowing at record high rates, he says. Heavy rains Friday and Saturday “were the icing on the cake,” he added in his email blast to about 100 people.

A report in the Town’s information package to council described several projects for shoreline protection on municipal property in the Dock Area, totalling more than $1 million, with only $128,000 in the 2020 budget.

And that doesn’t touch the “larger picture,” mentioned by Coun. Clare Cameron, referring to the need for protection from shoreline erosion and flooding along other areas of the lakefront.

Simkus reports the lake last Thursday was more than nine inches higher than the same date in 2019, 16-1/2 inches higher than the same date in January 2017 — and most alarming, at “precisely the same elevation as April 19, 2019, and still rising.”

Simkus has been stressing the Town must finish the shoreline work already started in the Dock Area — the addition of a groyne, or anchor stone wall, in the water to break waves before they hit shore, and more anchor stone and cobble along the shoreline to prevent erosion from the waves that wash onto land.

Once that work is finished — the sooner the better — Town staff will be free to focus on mitigating the flooding that is expected this spring, Simkus has emphasized. He believes the water will reach a level where flooding is inevitable, and damage control will become the priority.

Lord Mayor Betty Disero asked Interim CAO Sheldon Randall what work will be done on the waterfront this summer. She mentioned the two projects for shoreline protection outlined in the report, and another $300,000 worth of work in the parkette, and said she and the residents are confused about what is planned.

“We seem to be going backward and forward,” she said. “I want to get a handle on what we’re doing this summer.”

Randall assured councillors the work on the groyne and anchor stone wall has been put out to tender, and will proceed.

The next priority, he said, will be flooding prevention as the water level rises.

What is not a priority, he added, is the crumbling retaining wall in front of the Niagara Pumphouse Arts Centre.

Coun. Gary Burroughs told Randall the pumphouse “has real concerns about the safety of the wall. Will we do it or wait a year and hope the property is still there?”

Although divers have looked at the wall and it has been identified as requiring repairs, it isn’t an emergency, Randall says — there is no “immediate risk to life or the structure on the property.”

Peggy Walker, neighbour to the pumphouse property, owned by the Town, has contracted with Rankin Construction to repair her portion of the retaining wall, at a cost of up to $100,000, and was hoping the Town’s section could be done at the same time.

She’s been told that if the wall on the adjoining property is not repaired, water can get behind her wall and cause further damage.

But after Randall’s discussions with Rankin, a decision has been made not to proceed with repairs to the Town’s portion of the wall this year. The money is not in the budget, he says, and he feels he might get a better price, and possibly outside funding, by waiting.

Lord Mayor Betty Disero asked Randall to ensure Walker is told of the Town’s decision. It will be hard for Walker to be sitting in her house, getting ready for the work to be done on her wall, not knowing what will happen next door, said Disero, asking she be notified, “just so she doesn’t feel in the dark, that she’s not being ignored. It will go a long way to a good relationship.”

Randall said he will be looking for federal and provincial money to help complete the remaining work that needs to be done in the Dock Area on municipal property, and councillors stressed that he needs to impress upon higher levels of government that the situation is catastrophic.

“I don’t want to be negative,” said Coun. Allan Bisback, “but this seems to be a huge shopping list.” If the Town is going to ask for money, he said, it has to have a list that is prioritized, with the serious nature of the situation emphasized.

“This has to sound like a catastrophe, because I think we’re moving toward a catastrophe,” Bisback added.

There was also agreement that councillors attending conferences such as the Association of Municipalities of Ontario also take every opportunity to press the need for funding.

Environmental supervisor Brett Ruck, overseeing the work in the Dock Area, will provide a further update Monday, councillors were told.