HomeEnvironmentFiona Slams Harbour Infrastructure Across Atlantic Canada

Fiona Slams Harbour Infrastructure Across Atlantic Canada

In the wake of post-tropical storm Fiona, the Small Craft Harbours (SCH) program is reporting damage to 133 out of 180 harbours in Atlantic Canada and Eastern Québec.

According to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), of the 133 damaged harbours, 78 have been deemed fully operational, 35 have been deemed “more than 50 per cent operational” and 14 have been deemed “less than 50 per cent operational.” Six harbours have been deemed entirely unusable, with one chalking up to pre-planned repairs and another will be fully operational after the site is dredged.

According to the SCH Authority in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, the damages range from minor to catastrophic.

“We’ve seen quite a wide range of damages and that’s included from minor cleanup to dredging requirements, as well as some minor and extensive damage to electrical systems,” said Emilie LeBlanc, regional director of SCH for DFO’s Maritimes and Gulf regions.

“And then there’s the whole level of damages to infrastructure — from wheel guards to erosion to some significant damages to breakwaters and harbour infrastructure as well.”

In Newfoundland and Labrador, the damage mainly impacted the southwest portion of the island, from François on the south coast up to the Bay of Islands on the west coast.

“Within that, we’ve got 28 harbour sites and within those we’ve had crews actively out assessing damages,” said Joe McGrath, regional director for SCH in N.L. “We’ve identified, to date anyways, 17 of those sites that have experienced some level of impact.”

As a part of the $300-million Hurricane Fiona recovery fund announced by the federal government, $100 million has been set aside for DFO to cover the damages incurred throughout affected harbours, as well as lost fishing gear. While SCH in N.L. has not nailed down a dollar figure on damages, the estimates were high.

“It’s still too early to put a fine-tuned figure on it, but the reality is the early indications are that we’re into the tens of millions of dollars for sure,” said McGrath.

DFO added that with the wide array of damages still being assessed, it’s hard to nail down just how long repairs may take.

“In terms of timing, we’ve got a range of damage. Some of it is on the minor scale — floating docks that have slipped off their moorings and stuff. We’ve got some stuff on the other end too, which is basically total devastation of breakwaters, and wharves… So it’s a big piece of work, so we’re going to need some time to do that right. We’re easily talking a couple years before we’re back to where we were,” said McGrath.

DFO is focusing on the repairs it can accomplish in the short term before winter makes repairs more difficult.

“We’ve started to close out LFA (lobster fishing area) 25, and we have some dredging happening in P.E.I. as well,” said LeBlanc. “We’re also doing some minor repairs and investigations to determine the extent of the damages. In some instances, we need to get divers to take some pictures underwater and assess the infrastructure that we can’t necessarily see from land with a visual inspection. So, we’re going to be continuing to do as much of those works as we can until the ice sets in. So of course, that leads us to a certain level of projects that we can do in the shorter term.”

Larger projects, on the other hand, have quite a few steps involved.

Depending on the work that needs to be done, permits and authorizations may need to be granted. Public or Indigenous consultations may also need to be done based on the varying areas the work is being carried out in. SCH is aiming to have as many harbours open as possible for the spring fishing season.

“We’ll be working with harbour authorities to identify what the needs are and to be ready for the spring fishery. And that could mean prioritizing certain works depending on the availability of contractors,” said LeBlanc.

According to climatologists, storms like Fiona could go from being a once in a century storm to something much more common. Warmer waters around Canada’s coast allow hurricanes to maintain their strength as they travel north. According to DFO, Small Craft Harbours is trying to account for climate change in the future.

“As we rebuild, the focus will be on climate resiliency, really to better prepare these sites to weather future storms and other weather events that we’re seeing an increase of,” said LeBlanc. “For example, if we have a harbour or breakwater structure that we will need to rebuild, it may require a higher elevation.”

According to McGrath, COVID-19-related cost increases, climate change and supply issues have made things difficult for SCH.

“A longstanding problem within our Small Craft Harbours program is that our funding level has not really increased significantly. So, we’ve been trying to do more and more with the same budget. We’ve been very fortunate in that the government has provided over the years supplemental funds for various infrastructure programs and that’s helped a lot… It’s a challenge, no doubt, on our program to be able to do what we’ve got to do.”