Caraquet homes teeter on cliff edge as erosion threatens

The Mallet family figure their home will only be able to endure another storm or two before the erosion from storm surges will bring their house down into the Bay of Chaleur below. (Shane Fowler/CBC News - image credit)
The Mallet family figure their home will only be able to endure another storm or two before the erosion from storm surges will bring their house down into the Bay of Chaleur below. (Shane Fowler/CBC News - image credit)

The front yard of Jacqueline Mallet's Caraquet home is gone.

The grassy buffer between her house and the cliff overlooking the ocean has shrunk drastically.

Mallet says the one-two punch of Fiona and Nicole's hurricane remnants took the last few feet of lawn, leaving just a few centimetres edging out from under her deck.

"Twenty years ago, we had a beach right in front of our house," said Mallet. "Now you can see there's only rock and erosion."

Shane Fowler/CBC News
Shane Fowler/CBC News

Looking over the deck of her house, you can see where the exposed soil has been sliding down into the tide below. The waters of the Chaleur Bay here are muddy with erosion.

Mallet estimates her home will only survive another storm or two.

"Not too many if it is as worse as the last storm," said Mallet. "Not too many storms and we'll be gone."

WATCH | Storms have left some Caraquet homes dangling near Chaleur Bay: 

 

Mallet's home is one of six on Foley Street in Caraquet where storm surge has eaten away at properties.

Some property owners have tried to combat the loss by placing massive chunks of concrete on the beach below, but Mallet says that's not helping.

"It's sad, really sad," she said. "That's our paradise."

Municipal response 

The resulting erosion from Fiona and Nicole have spurred a promise from Caraquet's mayor to do all that's possible to save those homes.

Bernard Theriault says he's not sure yet which level of government the erosion falls under, but he's vowing the town will take the lead.

"Even if it's not clear who is responsible for erosion, the Town of Caraquet takes this responsibility there because it's part of our territory, it's our citizens that are victim of that problem, and I guess they should rely on their municipality for that," said Theriault.

Radio/Canada
Radio/Canada

Erosion has become a serious issue across New Brunswick's north shore in recent years. Researchers have been studying natural ways to combat it using dunes and grasses, but the Foley Street situation needs a more immediate fix to prevent those homes from falling over.

Marion Tétégan Simon is research director at Valorès in Shippagan, a research institute that studies coastal erosion and advises communities on mitigation strategies.

Jacques Poitras/CBC
Jacques Poitras/CBC

She said there was already erosion happening here but the impact of so much water in a storm has accelerated it.

"It's like when we build a sand castle on the beach," she said. "When there's too much water in the structure, it collapses. It's a bit like that."

"I've worked for Valorès for eight years. We've travelled around the peninsula studying different coastal areas, and this is the first time we've seen a situation this critical."

Theriault says the town is bringing in contractors to find a way to keep more soil from disappearing. Engineers are also looking into whether it's even safe for Mallet and her neighbours to keep living on Foley Street while a solution is found.

Shane Fowler/CBC News
Shane Fowler/CBC News

"There is some risk there," said Theriault. "We have to evaluate if this place represents a risk right now to live right on the cliff there."

Rock berms, breakwaters and retaining walls are being considered.

"It is by far the largest problem the town of Caraquet, the old and the new entities, has met in terms of erosion," said Theriault.

Mallet says she's relieved the town has made the issue a 'top priority.' But she still fears what will happen if the next storm rolls in before a solution is in place.

"They're supposed to start as soon as possible, to put some rock down at least," said Mallet.