Point Pelee, Leamington Fire cooperating on emergency response plans

Point Pelee, Leamington Fire cooperating on emergency response plans

The high water levels in the Great Lakes, along with strong winds are affecting Point Pelee's shoreline. Potential flooding in the area has Leamington Fire and Point Pelee coordinating their emergency plans.

Storms coming from the east causes marsh levels to rise quickly, said park ecologist Tammy Dobbie.

At one point. there was a buffer between the marsh and Lake Erie, allowing the water to percolate through the sand slowly. The marsh ridge was breach, creating about a 100-metre wide opening.

"Now we get these immediate, even higher levels of Lake Erie so you see that flooding in the parking lot and around the boardwalks and some of our trails also in low lying areas in the swamp forest are also covered in water," she said.

The big storms are eroding the sand and taking with it large trees and established vegetation on the east side of the park. Point Pelee has dealt with heavy storms in the past, but Dobbie said things are different since she started working at the park in 1993.

"Definitely things that I've seen over the time that I've been at the park is that the frequency of storms that we get and the intensity both in the spring in the fall seems to have changed to become more frequent," she said.

Stronger storms can bring very heavy rainfall which can affect the entire area. When that happens in a short period of time, it can temporary flood the park roads.

That can usually drain quickly as the park has natural areas with lots of lush vegetation — but not always.

"It can however, like we saw in the spring, take several days for water levels to go down after an extreme rain event," Dobbie said.

So far this year, the park hasn't had to remove people because of those high levels, but two years ago when the marsh was on fire it did. It has a plan in place when Point Pelee needs to get people to safety.

"If we were to have a flood situation temporarily inside the park, because of a storm or heavy flood event rain event, we have the park staff available to escort people out of the park and safely make sure that they're able to exit the park safely," she said.

Dobbie said they consistently update their emergency plans, working with the municipality and Leamington Fire Services.

In the summer, the park can see about 3,000 people on an weekend with fair weather. There can be up to 1,000 visitors during one time. The population of the park is in flux, so Leamington Fire is asking the park to keep a record of people within the ground.

"At any given point in time, they may have 100 visitors that are there at 10 o'clock at night. So we have had conversations with the point they're aware of our emergency flooding plan that we have," said deputy chief Mike Ciacelli.

They're both open to sharing whatever resources they have to help each other. Leamington Fire has a marine unit that can get to the outer boundaries of the shoreline. They also have an inflatable boat and dry suits for the firefighters. 

Marshy land

The area north of the park looked much different before development. Ciacelli said it was once marshy land and that's why it's particularly vulnerable to flooding.

"We took that water out," he said. "We started farming the fields. We started putting houses there, but naturally this was a natural floodplain and that's why we have issues with water there still."

He makes sure to keep in contact with the most vulnerable along the eastern shore. Ciacelli said the area is particular prone to flooding when there are east or northeasterly winds, reaching over 30 kilometres per hour, consistently over a day or two. Those residents can sign up to get alerts if they need to leave their homes.

Stacey Janzer/CBC

"We can geofence those areas. We can tell people within certain areas that if there is a situation that we can ask them for a voluntary evacuation at that point," Ciacelli said.

Park officials and Leamington Fire say they are monitoring the situation. For those living in the area it's recommended they keep a go-bag ready with important documents, water, cash, and medicine. And for visitors to the park, officials says it has park staff on the grounds ready to help when necessary.

"We can't think of a situation where we would need outside help to really do that although our cooperation with local authorities both first responders, EMS and the town is really good," said Dobbie. "So we would help each other either way if we needed to."