‘Very concerned, very cautious’

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. — Almost one month after post-tropical storm Fiona slammed the province, there are still areas of the P.E.I. National Park that Parks Canada staff have not been able to access because of extensive damage.

Karen Jans, P.E.I. field unit superintendent for Parks Canada, told a legislative standing meeting Oct. 21, the destruction was even worse than the last big storm in 2019.

“Whereas Dorian hit us right through the Cavendish sector, Fiona really spared us nowhere,” said Jans. “There was nowhere in the national park where there hasn’t been a significant impact.”

Approximately three to 10 metres of coastline was lost due to erosion caused by the storm. At Greenwich, the floating boardwalk was severely damaged, and it is unclear when it will be safe to repair it, said Jans.

“One of our colleagues likened (Greenwich boardwalk) to a giant that reached down, grabbed it, tossed it up and twisted it,” said Jans. “It’s sad to see. It’s heartbreaking.”

Parks Canada has spent the last month prioritizing the cleanup of main roads to ensure when the public is invited back to the park it is safe.

Once the main roads are cleared, Parks will shift its efforts to repairing infrastructure.

“We know Gulfshore Parkway, we’ll need to make it safe. We’re probably going to have to realign some of that road,” she said.

Parks does not have access to federal labour incentives, and with the labour shortage, since the COVID-19 pandemic began, these repairs will likely be a costly and time-consuming affair that will take more several years to complete.

That said, because Parks is a federal organization, there will be no cost to the province, said Jans.

“This is not something you can do in one season,” she said.

The debris from the fallen trees will stay in the park to be used for future construction projects, and large portions of the wood will be given to the campgrounds in the area to be used as fire wood.

Parks is considering using the wood for other projects outside of the province as well, such as when several downed trees were sent to Cape Breton to make cabins after Dorian in 2019.

However, much of the debris in the wooded areas will be left to decompose where it fell, as the nutrients provided will enrich the soil, leading to regeneration.

Jans also announced the park will be open to the public next summer, but it is still unclear what that will look like. For now, though, the park remains largely closed to visitors.

Volunteers who are hoping to help with the cleanup are being discouraged for now.

“We’re very concerned and very cautious. Those trees are torqued, they do not behave like regular trees when they are cut,” Jans said.

Updates are provided each Thursday on the Parks Canada website to inform the public which parts of the park are open and which remain closed.

Mike Montigny from Parks Canada told committee members Parks Canada does not want people to assume because these areas are opened that they are totally safe to visit.

“We are trying our best, we know people want to come to these places. We recognize people want to be there,” said Montigny. “Time will help heal this.”

Montigny also detailed how Parks Canada is planning to restore the dune systems before the winter.

Living shorelines have been suggested in some areas, but this will likely not be a long-term solution on the north shore, as the wave and wind systems likely wouldn’t support the infrastructure.

“We recognize we’re in a retreat, but it’s a managed retreat,” said Montigny. “The living shoreline is something to by us a little time.”

Rafe Wright, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Guardian