Surging seawater swept over several roads in and around Lunenburg on Saturday.
Coincidentally, about 50 people gathered at the Lunenburg School of the Arts the next day for a workshop on sea level rise, one of a series of such forums that the Ecology Action Centre and the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans are holding across the province.
“This is an important issue for communities and for landowners,” said Brittany MacIsaac, coastal outreach co-ordinator with the Ecology Action Centre and the moderator of Sunday’s event.
“We want to know what there is that we can do. There are a lot of tools out there, but no one really knows that they are there because they are all over the place and hard to find. Someone who is a property owner is not going to find that information.”
Many of the attendees said it’s time for government to step up.
“At the provincial level, I think that they have for some time had a very good feeling that something has to be done in these coastal areas to protect us, but nothing is happening,” said Barry Olivella of Lunenburg. “Nothing has been done.”
Olivella said it’s time for all levels of government to deal with rising sea levels.
“The problem with municipalities is that they have extreme difficulty in looking at the big picture,” he said.
Teresa Quilty, who lives just outside of town, voiced her frustration that no elected officials attended the workshop.
“They must use our dollars responsibly,” she said, noting that municipalities shy away from projects to mitigate flooding and water damage because of the expense.
“But it’s more costly to do things that don’t work.”
MacIsaac provided a graphic projecting in Lunenburg a fivefold sea-level rise by 2050, even if measures are taken to mitigate its increase. The level would be 12 times higher in 2100 than 2020, even if certain measures are taken.
The increased levels would be exponentially higher if no measures are put in place.
Sea level increases can lead to a permanently submerged coast and a new normal water level, coastal erosion, saltwater intrusion into fresh groundwater supplies, coastal flooding brought on by storm surges and extreme water levels caused by surges, tide and the sea level increase, she said.
The group was told about approaches to curtail the rising seas, including recommended changes to the height of coastal infrastructure, keeping infrastructure further from the coastline, using engineered hard structures to hold back the water, planting vegetation and upland forests, maintaining other beach and marshland zones and changing policies and strategies.
MacIsaac said hardscaping — building fixed infrastructure to keep water back — has often been the go-to approach, but it should not be.
The workshop participants had an opportunity to view topographical maps and mark their home territory or places that they thought might be most susceptible to rising sea levels. For many, home and vulnerability to rising waters were one and the same.
“My concern is that people are not realizing the likelihood of future flooding issues and the municipality has to take responsibility to alert the people, to make sure that they understand the possible repercussions and try to anticipate what would be good steps to protect people from getting into that kind of trouble, but also to getting them out of it,” said Barbara Carthew, who has lived with her husband Haigh for the past 20 years along Highway 332 near Rose Bay, outside of Lunenburg.
She said the highway gets covered with water several times a year and it’s the only access road into the nearby towns for many residents.
“It gets covered with rocks and seaweed, so it’s not passable at times,” Carthew said. “It’s not as bad as it’s going to be. It’s not the only area. It’s all along the South Shore here, down toward Petite Riviere and all these communities. They are all in the same situation. It’s not just one small community. The province has to get on board with looking at the big picture and each of the community organizations have to take a responsible role in informing people.”
Carthew said municipalities have to cut back on the amount of building permitted in vulnerable areas and ensure that real estate agents are penalized if they don’t “tell people the facts of life of what is to come.”
MacIsaac said there are five to seven more workshops planned, depending on funding. She said it’s important to reach out to people who don’t attend, too.
“Sometimes you actually feel like you are preaching to the choir for people who actually show up. Getting this information out and keeping having these discussions with people in your community and just bringing it up to councils and putting a little bit of pressure on our municipalities and the provincial government to try to figure out ways to mitigate this.”