Due to an “elevated possibility of failure of a portion of the Erie Shore Drive dike,” the municipality is asking residents on that part of the road to evacuate their homes by March 9, leaving those residents angry and with many questions.
At an emergency public meeting Friday night in Chatham-Kent council chambers, Mayor Darrin Canniff officially declared a state of emergency for Erie Shore Drive and adjacent farm land and roads, including Erieau Road, the only access to the Village of Erieau. Citing widespread flooding should the dike fail, Canniff said the low-lying farmland would be flooded to the north and northeast, including Erieau Road.
The municipality advised the evacuation of residences from 18416 to 17982 Erie Shore Dr. by March 9 so work to shore up the dike, at a cost of approximately $450,000, could begin immediately. Assistance is being offered by municipality to help residents find a place to live if friends or family can’t take them in, and two public meetings were to be held March 3 to give residents boxes and sand bags and a chance to talk to public officials.
Council was to vote on the road closure Monday night.
“Information arrived on our doorstep in the last several hours that significantly increases the risk for citizens on Erie Shore Drive and the surrounding area. We tried to get that information out as soon as possible and our primary focus to protect the lives and safety of the residents,” said municipal CEO Don Shropshire at the meeting Friday.
According to municipal engineer Thomas Kelly, the work is expected to take six weeks, if the weather co-operates, with no access to the homes by residents. In the meantime, staff and consultants Golder Associates, are to come up with a plan for council to consider that would re-design the elevation of the dike and improve mitigation measures for high water and adverse weather events, consider a buy out of the properties and provide costs associated with the different options. This second phase is expected to last until the end of 2020, when residents will then be allowed access to the property.
Kelly said there are 123 homes on the dike with 43 on the current tax roll. It was constructed in 1914 and he said plans have been considered and rejected over the years due to the cost involved. High water events since 2016, storm surges and lack of ice on the lake have contributed to flooding, erosion and weakening of the dike road and the ground under it. Rain forecasts for this spring were of immediate concern, Kelly said, as the ground under the road is already saturated and cracks in the road itself are widening.
Coun. Trevor Thompson let his emotions show as he spoke about the impact of the closure on residents of the dike road.
“I’m sorry it’s come to this; it keeps me up at night and I know it keeps you up at night,” Thompson said.
Kelly emphasized the importance of starting the work on the dike as soon as possible, and Shropshire agreed.
“If we allow a breach, it makes rebuilding the road a lot more expensive and a lot more complicated. We need to deal with the immediate risk to the community,” Shropshire noted. “It does not mean the residents will not have access to their property, we just need to see what that will look like.”
Shropshire added that residents in Erieau who have medical issues should consider evacuating as well during this time as the village will be cut off by flooding if the dike breaches and “essentially become an island.”
Thomas said if the dike does fail, residents in Erieau would have six-to-eight hours to evacuate before Erieau Road was flooded over, cutting off access, with a total area of 1,600 acres of land in danger.
The Erie Shore Drive Homeowners’ Association had members at the public meeting Friday, expressing their anger and frustration at the amount of money they have spent on their properties, “doing their due diligence to protect other people and property” from flooding.
Murray Spencer said there is $22 million worth of property along that portion of road that will be worth nothing if they close the road.
Gail Spencer, another resident, agreed, noting that while they understand the human safety issue, if they ever get back to their homes, there will be thousands of dollars of repair work to do and she asked who would be paying for that?
Another long-time resident, Sue O’Brien, was very distraught and said she and her husband have nowhere to go and worry about trying to rent space and still pay their mortgage. She also has a two-storey home to try and pack up before March 9 and doesn’t know how she will get that done.
“My home is my lifetime investment and you are going to put stone blocks in front of it and I am going to lose it,” O’Brien told council. “This is not just an inconvenience, it’s a total devastation. Imagine you council, trying to figure out where you are going to live tomorrow? I have a mortgage and the only option is to walk away and declare bankruptcy. This problem is not new. I told you in ’97 that it is not if the dike will breach, it’s when.”
Finance Director Gord Quinton said the municipality will be waiving taxes until the end of the year for the affected property owners, to the tune of more than $1 million that will have to be made up elsewhere.
The municipality is asking any residents who can help the residents pack and move their belongings or who have rental properties or room in their homes for affected families to please call the municipality at 519-360-1998 to sign up. Human Resources Manager Cathy Hoffman said they will match residents with volunteers and case managers wth social services will be available to help people find accommodations.
More information on the state of emergency can be found on the municipal website. Click here.