Chatham-Kent has 'dropped the ball' says Erie Shore Drive property owner

Farmers can't plant because the ground is too wet — but in some Chatham-Kent neighbourhoods, even the roads are closed.

Water over the road has closed parts of Erie Shore Drive in Chatham-Kent and Ward 2 councillor Trevor Thompson is concerned it might turn into another Rose Beach Line situation — a street which has been closed since November 2018 and isn't expected to reopen until 2020. 

"The water levels aren't going to be coming down anytime soon," said Thompson. "This flood undermined more than one section of the roadway."

Official word from the municipality is that repairs on Erie Shore Drive from Bisnett Line and Erieau Road will take a few days to complete.

Thompson said the municipality got 'lucky' this weekend.

"We were a wind shift away from having hundreds of acres flooded out," said Thompson. "We got lucky with the wind change."

Trevor Thompson

According to Thompson, Rose Beach Line might never reopen. 

"The cost to do just one kilometre of road is up to $15 million and even then that would only buy you 10 to 20 years of protection before the lake would take it back."

On Rose Beach Line, the closure has been an "inconvenience," but there aren't many people living there, said Thompson.

Erie Shore Drive is a different story: there are more than 100 homes just on the lake side of the road. Thompson is concerned about how much of the infrastructure in the region is close to the lake.

"At the very least we need to find some sort of way of protecting that dike and some way to help the residents or help them get out of harm's way," said Thompson. 

$30k in damage out of pocket

Andrew Spencer was hoping to retire to Chatham-Kent. He bought a cottage property on Erie Shore Drive about nine years ago — and now water covers the floor.

His damage estimate? About $30,000 ... and that's after he spent thousands in putting in a seawall and other barriers around the property. 

Spencer said he's "terrified" about the damage to his property. 

"I have very little buffer for any sort of wind," said Spencer. "The interior of the cottage is a total loss from this weekend."

Spencer wasn't aware he was buying a property in a flood zone — and it's not something insurable, so all the repairs and preventative measures he's put in place have been out of pocket.

"I would have went into it with a clearer mind," said Spencer. "When we bought it, the water levels were much lower."

Chatham-Kent Website

Rising and record-breaking water levels on Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair mean flood warnings and watches may affect new areas that weren't previously at risk.

Thompson said that's just something area residents might have to get used to. 

"The new normal is that nothing is going to be normal anymore," said Thompson. The extremes have become the new normal."

Moving quicker than the situation changes

It usually all comes down to money. Thompson said there have been discussions about putting breakwalls offshore, but in 1998 when it was discussed it was going to cost $25 million. 

"That's out ... we can't do that for a small section of road."

When a road floods and municipalities are looking at long-term fixtures, an environmental assessment has to be done. That involves multiple layers of policy and multiple levels of government.

"It's difficult to work in and around water," said Thompson. "Any fix we could come up with isn't a 2019 fix. And by that point, by the time you get the environment assessment finished, the situation will have changed to the point where you have to start fresh again."

Thompson said the erosion is coming "fast and furious," even compared to problems in the 1980s. 

"I don't know that anybody can move quick enough ... historically you lose about three metres a year on the Lake Erie shoreline."

Property owners need to work together

Spencer came from out of the area to buy his cottage. He lives and works full time in Kitchener-Waterloo. He said there was no disclosure about the potential for flooding from the municipality when he bought his property. 

"There was no engineer available to us as homeowners," said Spencer. "There's no controls between myself and my neighbours."

Describing it as currently an "ad hoc" solution, Spencer would like to see the municipality ensure neighbours use matching systems.

"What you do can ultimately affect your neighbours," said Spencer. "There's no system in place to help the homeowners. Everyone is sort of winging it."

Spencer said it would be nice if there was a "grand scheme" or end game in place. When someone is ready to invest in a seawall, the municipality hands them a finished plan and list of approved contractors. Then something already-engineered and potentially matching your neighbour's construction would be built. 

Everyone would benefit from a collaborative system, said Spencer. He thinks it would solve volatile property values and ongoing flooding problems. 

'Chatham-Kent has dropped the ball'

Spencer said the municipality is supposed to be responsible for Erie Shore Drive — when it was built, a series of jettys and breakwalls were installed in the lake, made out of a hard wood, in the 1940s.

"Over the years, they've deteriorated. Basically they're gone," said Spencer. "But there's a responsibility of the municipality to maintain that but they've shirked that."

According to Spencer, the responsibility has been left to the property owner, but the municipality benefits from his investment. 

"[The municipality] could work with the homeowners," said Spencer. "There's a long way to go with making this good for everybody."

Thompson said at the next council meeting he plans to bring forward a motion to declare a climate emergency, to bring attention to the issue and give the municipality access to funding resources.