Quebec homeowners say Ottawa must deal with decades of erosion caused by ship traffic


Vercher, Que. — Every year, 100-year-old Angélique Beauchemin watches her land collapse into the St. Lawrence River.

From her bustling riverside home in Vercher on the South Shore of Montreal, she hits a rock wall at the bottom of her property, clearing lumps and digging into unprotected banks from below. I’m looking at it.

She said the higher part of her land is sinking an inch or two a year because it slopes even steeper towards the river. She’s not a scientist, but she says her greatest fear is that one day a landslide will occur and the white house on the top of the hill where she lived for decades will collapse.

“It could go completely,” she said in a recent interview.

Despite her age, with the help of a cane, she wore a straw hat and sunglasses and made a steep hike down the slope to the river. At the bottom, she pointed to where the water has carved a bay on the shore since her last visit.

“This is even worse than before,” she said. “It’s not a relief.”

According to Beaukemin, the area under the wall was a small sandy beach where people could swim. Now she feels the rest of the rock walls and the remains of the concrete sidewalks that the inhabitants were able to wander from town to town were washed away by the end of summer.

Beaukemin is part of a group of people living in towns along the South Shore of Montreal, and the federal government is trying to counter the effects of coastal erosion, which they say are affecting animals and vegetation and damaging land. Is urging.

They say the culprit is a wave from a large ship passing through a narrow area of ​​St. Lawrence, devouring a rock wall and pulling away a cloudy soil vortex with ripples.

Michelin Lagard, chairman of the Residents’ Committee, formed in 2019, draws on an old article showing that the federal government built erosion prevention infrastructure along rivers in the 1960s and 1970s.

However, the federal program that funded the maintenance of the wall was eventually reduced and completely abolished in 1997. Since then, she said the walls have continued to collapse.

In an interview in the kitchen overlooking the river, Lagarde said people felt “totally abandoned” despite continued property damage.

“It’s like no one wants to take responsibility,” she said.

Lagarde said the residents had united to form a civic committee after lobbying parliamentarians for years. Since then, they have lobbied further, went to Ottawa, submitted 2,300 signed petitions, and tried to meet then-Minister of Transport, Marc Garneau, but failed.

According to Lagarde, building and repairing retaining walls yourself requires specialized contractors and engineers, and costs an estimated $ 5,000 to $ 6,000 per meter, so homeowners build them themselves. It is almost impossible to repair it. This means that the total bill for real estate can reach hundreds of thousands of dollars. She said that even if they wanted, the St. Lawrence River is under state and federal jurisdiction and may not even be granted permission.

Last week, Lagarde and Commission member Diane Lagarde took the Canadian Press to visit several facilities in Verscher and nearby Contrecoeur, Kenya. They pointed out lost trees and other vegetation, shed land masses, collapsed concrete and rock retaining walls.

John Massery’s house is about 9 meters from the water and has a lawn held down from the river by a 9-foot-high metal sheet pile wall built in the 1960s.

Last week, Massery walked along the base, pointing out a rusty place where water began to infiltrate. One side of the wall is fixed with a concrete base, about half of which is eroded, and the other side is fixed with an angled bar for digging grass.

“If they fail and the sheet piles are gone, the house is no longer habitable,” he said.

Masserey expressed concern about sheet piles almost 30 years ago when he wrote a letter to the federal government suggesting that the base was degraded by the effects of waves from ship traffic. According to a response from the Canadian Coast Guard in 1993, there was no federal funding for the restoration.

Masserey and Beauchemin are Varennes, Que. , Verchères, on behalf of the residents of Contrecoeur, participated in a class action proceeding against the federal government. The benefits have not yet been heard, but the $ 50 million lawsuit alleges that owners have experienced exacerbations of erosion beyond what occurs in the natural process of ships.

In a statement, the Ministry of Transport said it was aware of the erosion problem in the area and was tracking the problem with other partners.

“To protect banks, the federal government provided funding to build a protection structure in the 1960s. This program has since ended,” he wrote.

The Ministry of Transport said it has taken steps to mitigate the effects of waves generated by vessels, including issuing water level navigation notices, monitoring vessel speeds, and implementing voluntary deceleration measures in 2000. rice field.

The agency also said that erosion was not only due to ships, but also to “natural factors” such as ice, wind and ocean currents.

“Since these issues are outside the authority of the Ministry of Transport, this department does not have the program or funding to deal with coastal erosion associated with these factors,” said the department, saying that the river is responsible for the state and Said it is shared with the city.

Mr Lagarde said he did not oppose the class action proceedings, but hopes the issue will be resolved in a friendly manner.

She hopes to meet with the Federal Minister of Environment and Transport on repairing collapsing walls and work with scientists to come up with new eco-friendly ways to combat erosion.

Morgan Raleigh

Canadian press