Coastal communities fighting back against effects of global warming

coastal erosion; Telegraph-Journal archive

Communities along the Acadian Peninsula are slowly washing away.

The more frequent storm surges have caused problems with erosion all along the New Brunswick coast. Now a three-year plan has been put into action to help combat the effects of global warming.

The small New Brunswick towns of Bas-Caraquet, Le Goulet and Shippagan all sit on the northern shores of the Atlantic Ocean. Each has suffered property damage from intense flooding and shoreline erosion.

But a plan is in the works to save the little villages from drowning.

Sabine Dietz is the provincial co-ordinator of the New Brunswick Regional Adaptation Collaborative. She’s working on a project that is part of a three-year, $30-million cost-sharing federal program geared towards preparing communities for change brought on by global warming.

The Acadian Peninsula project, which began in 2009, aims to assess high-risk areas, map out future erosion and sea level rise, and give the communities the information needed to make smart future zoning decisions.

The provincial Department of Natural Resources, the Université de Moncton (Moncton and Shippagan campuses) and the coastal zone research institute Inc. in Shippagan are working together on the project.

This is the first of its kind in Atlantic Canada, Dietz said. The idea is to focus on places that are already experiencing issues and find solutions that can be shared.

“They feel like they’re getting very little help,” she said, “but they’re not the only ones.”

Le Goulet, a small fishing community with a population of 950, is low-lying and relatively flat. These two features make it particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels, and flooding from storm surges have become more frequent over the years.

For example, in the last 15 years, four major floods resulting from coastal storm surges have affected up to 30 homes in the village. The big concerns are drinking water contamination by the salt water, overflowing septic tanks, and flooded roads. Many people are still dealing with contaminated drinking water and mould issues, the report stated.

Le Goulet plans to adapt in three main ways: relocate homes and roads away from potential flooding, erect houses on pilings to accommodate rising sea levels, and build sea walls, dikes, beach nourishment and wetland restoration.

Jean-Marie Gionet, the deputy mayor for Bas-Caraquet, said things aren’t looking good. In his community, the issue at hand is mostly erosion. Cracking winter ice is leading to higher tides earlier in the season, and time is running out, he said.

Some people have lost 20 feet off their land, he said.

“The ocean just took it away,” Gionet said. “You can’t fight against Mother Nature.”

The hope, Dietz said, is that once they find an approach that works in these specific communities, it can be transferred to other communities throughout Atlantic Canada in similar geographic situations.

Previously published July 11, 2011; Telegraph-Journal, Vancouver Sun