Ottawa called on to protect wharfs, coastline

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Infrastructure vulnerable to climate change: study

The federal government is trying to come up with ways to protect millions of dollars worth of vulnerable infrastructure and coastline, years after it was urged to adapt to the effects of climate change.

Ottawa has solicited a study on how some of the 1,000 small craft harbours that are critical to the fishing industry could be affected by rising sea levels, storm surges and a loss of shorefast ice - all linked to climate change.

Fishing boats rest on their hulls at low tide at a wharf in Parrsboro, N.S. in the Bay of Fundy on Nov. 12, 2009. The federal government is trying to come up with ways to protect millions of dollars worth of vulnerable infrastructure and coastline, years

The federal government is trying to come up with ways to protect millions of dollars worth of vulnerable infrastructure and coastline, years after it was urged to adapt to the effects of climate change.

Ottawa has solicited a study on how some of the 1,000 small craft harbours that are critical to the fishing industry could be affected by rising sea levels, storm surges and a loss of shorefast ice - all linked to climate change.

The call for proposals from the Department of Fisheries says the government has long been criticized for failing to prepare for changing conditions that could damage wharfs, fisheries infrastructure and coastal habitats.

"Climate change is an issue which will have implications in all five Small Craft Harbour regions," states the document, which was obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

"Increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather and related natural hazards will impact critical infrastructure."

The Small Craft Harbours vulnerability study, budgeted at $50,000, identifies areas that research has suggested could feel the greatest fallout from warming temperatures.

In Atlantic Canada, Nova Scotia could face particular threat with its 7,600 kilometres of coastline and rising sea levels. Other eastern regions are also vulnerable to higher storm surges, more intense storms, coastal erosion and increased flooding, the document warns.

Gerry Byrne, the Liberal fisheries critic, said he's already seen extensive damage in his riding on the northern peninsula of Newfoundland and Labrador.

"We're seeing a rise in the intensity and the frequency of both summer and winter storms in the coastal zone," he said. "And it's eroding shorelines and causing property and habitat damage. "We're seeing that more now than ever before."

Byrne sits on an all-party fisheries committee that issued a report last June recommending the government move on protections for small craft harbours and infrastructure. He said it was stalled by the Conservatives' refusal to recognize climate change as a real phenomenon.

The call for proposals from Fisheries appears to be softening on that position, he said.

"It's really a question of admitting and recognizing that climate change is having a serious, negative impact on coastal zones and infrastructure," he said. "The government has been extremely reluctant to make that admission."

But he said the call for proposals comes after repeated urgings by other agencies that Ottawa needed to respond to and prepare for the effects of climate change.

"It's a good place to start, but I think most of the solutions are already available," he said. "We are still in the process of nickel and diming and under-engineering our infrastructure."

In his area, Byrne said a $700,000 breakwater had to be repaired at a cost of $500,000 months later because it wasn't properly reinforced for storms.

In the North, climate change is causing permafrost to thaw and summer sea ice to decrease in thickness, according to a reference in the document from the Northwest Territories government.

The document, which puts the cost of replacing harbour infrastructure at $3 billion, also cites a report by the government of British Columbia that suggests a projected sea-level rise could cause flooding, erosion and a loss of habitat in the province.

It also warns that changing water levels could affect "the department's ability to provide safe access to Canadian waterways."

Organizations: Department of Fisheries, Canadian Press, Conservatives

Geographic location: Ottawa, Atlantic Canada, Nova Scotia Newfoundland and Labrador Northwest Territories British Columbia

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