Feeling forgotten in Margaree - Fox Roost

MARGAREE - FOX ROOST — Almost two months after Hurricane Fiona, residents in Margaree-Fox Roost still have questions about cleanup and removal of the four homes damaged beyond repair, as well as fishing infrastructure.

Darrell Park, Treasurer with the Local Service District (LSD) said that while it is great that there are positive stories being shared about generosity, it can also make their own residents feel left behind.

“Where we live, you can actually see Port aux Basques from here, but it’s like we don’t exist,” said Park.

To date, the community has been contacted by five organizations – the Canadian Red Cross, Small Craft and Harbours, Municipal Affairs, the Canadian Armed Forces, and the Department of Justice and Public Safety, with the army actually going door-to-door. But it seems the help stopped there.

“I spoke to the Lieutenant that was in charge, and apparently that was their entire mandate – to knock on the door, see what we needed, and pass on the information to someone else. If there was anything that we really needed, someone else would bring it,” said Park. “I said that first we need help with cleanup because people can’t even get into what’s left of their homes to get their personal belongings, so we need help with that. I thought they were working with the military guys up in Port aux Basques. He said that was not their mandate, that their mandate is to go door-to-door to find out how everybody is doing and what they need.”

Park said that only two days after the hurricane, with people still unable to get into their homes to see what they lost, it was an impossible question to answer.

“For us, at that moment was to first get those breakwaters back in place and clean up. I told them all who I spoke with that if we get another event, and we had a close one this past weekend, if we get another event, the houses on the other side of the road are now in danger. Even with the breakwater we had, the water was going the road and into the yards, and now we don’t even have a partial breakwater."

Significant cleanup has been completed thanks to the residents and the volunteer fire department, but they began to lose hope that the promises made in the wake of Fiona would all but disappear, so they’ve taken it upon themselves to remove damaged homes and debris themselves, not wanting to wait into the colder months when cleanup will be impossible.

After the initial wellness check, Dwayne Vautier, LSD Chair, said no one returned to follow up.

“We were given contact numbers and we set up the residents that needed it (help), making sure they registered and contacted them, but that’s pretty much it. We did get a message saying there’s items up to the Lions Club. We did pass that on to residents. They knew that anything they need, they can go up there and get it, if they have it. So that did happen."

The most frustrating part for Vautier is the fact that the cleanup of destroyed homes has been delayed and there is a real concern they are a safety hazard. Aluminum siding is being blown around by the wind, and youths have been spotted attempting to enter some of the ruined homes. Vautier and Park want to see them demolished and the debris carried away before someone gets hurt, especially given the winter storms common to the region.

“They’ve been looked at by engineers and deemed that way, (the homes) not inhabitable. They’ve been looking at their insurance, and now they are looking at the assessors.”

Park added that the last information he received was from Emergency Management services who informed him that the tender had been stopped. The tender for removal of destroyed homes was set to go several weeks ago, before the federal government informed them that it was postponed to finish assessments.

“They were due that following Tuesday. That was over three weeks ago and we still haven’t seen them. If they’ve been here, they haven’t contacted us,” said Park. "According to Jeremy Keeping, they were supposed to cover the initial funding to cover the bare basics, then the government was supposed to get involved and cover the rest. I don’t know if that’s accurate, but we’re stuck in limbo because the government can’t do anything until the federal guys are done, but the federal guys, nobody knows how to contact them.”

Park said he was told by the Department of Municipal Affairs that, even once the assessments are completed, payment for the removal of these houses will have to be made up front, something that as a small community of less than 400 people, they are unable to do.

“I’ve expressed to them, I’ve expressed to Andrew Parsons, I’ve expressed to everybody I talked to, we can’t do that. Our operating budget – we’ve got money in our pot to pay for things we normally pay for like firefighting, streetlights, hydro to keep our pumps going, water and garbage collection,” said Park. “We cannot afford to pay this up front. I’ve been told by Municipal Affairs that the turnover rate when this is done is expected to be less than 30 days, but I can’t trust that. We’ve got other things to pay.”

“We cannot do this unless we sacrifice the operations of this community,” said Vautier. “You can’t underestimate the cost of debris removal. It’s a very expensive thing.”

At the end of the day, Park said there is one fundamental problem, stopping people from getting the help they need.

“There’s all kinds of people listening to what’s wrong. Nobody wants to do anything to fix it.”

Throughout it all, the residents of Margaree-Fox Roost came together as best they could to get their community back to what it was. Vautier said the community club provided meals, Scotiabank donated funds, Pizza Delight and Subway provided food as well.

“We did get support like that, and I will never deny any support we’ve gotten.”

The lack of communication between the organizations involved is as frustrating for community leaders as it is for homeowners, but some answers came at the Port aux Basques meeting. Unfortunately neither Vautier nor Park were free to attend the meeting, but their primary concern remains up front cost.

“Worst case scenario, the people who lost those houses will get their funds, but those buildings will stay right where they are because we don’t have the equipment to take them down, especially those two-story places.”

The next day, while en route back to St. John's, MHA Andrew Parsons (Burgeo - La Poile) said he understood and advised communities with similar problems to reach out to him directly or to the province's Hurricane Fiona Response Coordinator, Joanne Clarke.

"This is an easily fixable problem in my opinion," said Parsons. "I'm confident that there's solutions to all of these problems."

Ryan Critch, Communications Advisor with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, responded to inquiries about the damaged fishing infrastructure via email.

"Firstly, our thoughts are with everyone still recovering from the impacts of Hurricane Fiona.

The DFO Small Craft Harbours branch has completed damage assessment work at commercial fishing harbours within the hurricane impact zone, encompassing the Southwest coast of Newfoundland. At present, the program is focusing on design and planning work in preparation for reconstruction efforts that are expected to happen over the next few years.

Small Craft Harbours staff have been in regular contact with various municipalities, local service districts and harbour authorities throughout the impacted area.

While individual project details are not yet finalized, departmental efforts are focusing on repairing and/or restoring protective elements (such as breakwaters) and other harbour infrastructure required to support the commercial fishing industry."

Jaymie White, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wreckhouse Weekly News