'No quick fix' for Fort Erie's storm damage mitigation efforts

·3 min read

Tim Sember says the missing wall from his cottage, caused by hurricane-force winds and waves, is the price paid for living by the water.

Sember, a resident of New York state, comes to his Fort Erie getaway every year between Memorial and Labour days. The cottage has been in the family since 1973, he said over the phone on Tuesday (Nov. 17).

He learned of the damage from area residents texting photos and updates.

“Lake Erie is a Great Lake and Mother Nature is not something to be toyed with,” he said of the storm.

At around 10 a.m. on the morning of Nov. 15, a flood warning was issued by the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority.

The Fort Erie Fire Department was also knocking on doors in commonly impacted areas, warning of the coming storm. The department ended up receiving 34 emergency calls, mainly concerning hydro lines, according to Fort Erie’s fire chief, Ed Melanson.

By the time darkness fell on Sunday, howling winds generated by a massive storm that formed over the American Midwest had peaked at 141 km/h at the Niagara District Airport.

Breakwalls did little to halt Lake Erie’s violent assault on the lakefront community of Crystal Beach that night.

At blame for the destruction are “seiche waves,” said Eric Anderson, a principal investigator with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the United States.

Meaning “to sway back and forth,” seiche waves slosh from one end of a body of water to another, as though Lake Erie were a giant bathtub.

Geoff Coulson, an Environment Canada meteorologist, said meteorologists look at how long the “fetch” is for winds across a lake.

In Sunday’s case, the fetch ran along Lake Erie’s 388-kilometre-long axis.

“When winds line up out of the southwest, you’re getting this building wave action, made worse by the unique shape and shallowness of Lake Erie that can lead to these damaging events,” he said.

Kelly Walsh, director of infrastructure services for the Town of Fort Erie, said most roadways would be cleared of debris by the end of Tuesday.

Walsh estimates the costs of additional damage from the storm to areas like Point Abino Road and the Friendship Trail will run in the “hundreds of thousands” price range.

“To rebuild the trail and rebuild it properly so that it has got protection against storms like we’ve just had, is a couple million dollars — the town doesn’t have that in its bank account right now,” Walsh said.

Fort Erie presently has an application in with the province’s Municipal Disaster Recovery Assistance program — the outcome of which will steer what restoration projects can be undertaken by the town.

Asked about future plans for storm damage mitigation, Walsh said, “There’s no plans in place right now; we’re looking at a couple areas.”

“There is no quick fix to it,” he added.

Canadian Niagara Power crews were still working through Tuesday to restore power to 55 remaining customers; down significantly from the 15,000 left in the dark for just under an hour when Fort Erie’s main power line went down on Sunday.

As for Sember, he hasn’t been able to set foot in Canada since pandemic travel restrictions took effect.

“I’ll rely on the goodness and kindness of others to check on it and keep an eye on it for me,” he said of the cottage, since boarded up.

Jordan Snobelen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Niagara this Week