Shoreline erosion problem requires new thinking, Saugeen Ojibway say

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Saugeen Ojibway Nation officials say so many permits are being sought for emergency shoreline repairs, caused by record-high water levels, that a meeting is needed to consider natural, long-term solutions in SON traditional territory.


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From Collingwood up to Tobermory and down to Grand Bend, SON’s Environment Office receives a notification from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry every time a provincial work permit for shoreline repairs is requested.

News of high-water impacts made headlines around the Lake Huron and Georgian Bay shorelines following storms this fall.

Goderich is installing armour stone along parts of its shoreline to better protect it and its water treatment plant.

Waterfront paths have been closed in Owen Sound and Saugeen Shores due to high water, the Lion’s Head Lighthouse was destroyed and waves exposed a water line and threatened a pavilion in Meaford’s Memorial Park.

No meeting date has been set, said Doran Ritchie, who reviews each permit application and forwards it to the appropriate SON advisor. He’s the infrastructure and resources manager with the SON Environment Office.

But he’s spoken with the MNRF about the need for a meeting involving provincial and federal authorities, conservation authorities and municipalities to consider a more naturalized shoreline management approach over man-made solutions.

The current go-to approach favours engineered solutions, such as armour stone barriers to protect the shoreline from waves. But nature has shown these aren’t always the best solutions, Ritchie said.

“The municipalities around Georgian Bay, Lake Huron, are experiencing increasing water levels, shoreline erosion. Infrastructure is being compromised, land use is also being compromised,” Ritchie said in an interview Friday.


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“No one is considering alternative use for those areas. No one’s considering moving infrastructure away from those areas affected. And our position is, the lake is where it’s going to be and we cannot influence that,” Ritchie said.

“What we need to consider though is a long-term solution. And long-term solution is natural bank stabilization methods, versus armour stone and man-made techniques.”

These alternatives include re-establishing sand dunes where possible and planting deep-rooted vegetation to better hold shorelines in place to help withstand wave-action erosion. It also may require a change of land use in certain areas, he said.

He sees applications to rebuild armour-stone walls to protect shorelines in areas where the water has gone right over the walls, “scouring the previously undisturbed landscape.”

Ritchie also said “there’s no clear criteria on what qualifies as an emergency” for shoreline repairs. So a meeting would be useful to get everyone onto the same page.

“People like process, people like clarity. And to me, it’s pretty unclear at this point how municipalities, government, First Nations are going to address the rising lake levels.”

Meaford staff have been talking with SON and agree a meeting is needed “because we don’t know how to deal with it,” Meaford’s chief administrative officer, Rob Armstrong, said in an interview Friday.

He also said “the municipality doesn’t have financial capacity to deal with a lot of these shoreline issues” and will seek money from upper levels of government.


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A Jan. 13 council update report noted Meaford had distributed about 4,500 bags of sand and had begun discussions with various authorities on the scope of approvals needed to undertake emergency work, including in the bay.

Meaford was advised by the ministry that there were no provisions for emergency work permits but that permits would be expedited where possible.

Armstrong said Meaford is considering moving playground equipment in Fred Raper Park.

Meaford has added boulders in front of a previously repaired retaining wall in Memorial Park, with more work there scheduled for the spring. Rocks were placed to protect the pavilion and an exposed waterline in Memorial Park.

And Meaford has applied to the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Ontario MNRF, for permission to do additional protective work along Lakeside Avenue and Lakeshore Road South.

In the case of Lakeside Avenue, “The road runs right along the water and there was threat that the road would get washed out. And if that road got washed out we’d have some stranded residents because that’s their only access,” Armstrong said.

A meeting involving municipal staff from Meaford and the Grey Sauble Conservation Authority discussed what to tell residents looking for approvals for erosion-control work, the council report noted. It also said Meaford doesn’t qualify for provincial emergency funding due to “extremely rigid criteria”.

The Lake Huron Centre for Coastal Conservation Centre, in Goderich, also advocates for naturalized rather than hardened shorelines as high water and climate change threaten the area’s shorelines.

Its new a plan recommends shoreline municipalities adopt common bylaw and county official plan policies by 2022 to address shoreline management.

“A lot of people instantly think, ‘Oh my gosh, we have to put in a wall. Or armour stone or gabion baskets.’ So that’s that shoreline hardening,” Hannah Cann, the center’s coastal stewardship co-ordinator, said in a recent interview.

But sand dunes and planting vegetation where possible are cheaper and more durable against flooding, she said.

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