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Newfoundland blizzard damage could cost up to tens of millions


Storm surge caused most destruction

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

It’s early days, but a tally of the blizzard damage pegs costs at up to tens of millions of dollars so far, and some destruction might still be buried under snow.

The province’s coastal communities are bearing the brunt of the damage.

According to Mayor Terry French, storm surge in Conception Bay South (C.B.S.) damaged beaches, groomed trails along the coast and the breakwater that protected the Royal Newfoundland Yacht Club.

He said a storm sewer in Topsail was ripped from the ground, and many of the town’s roads near the coast had pavement ripped up, or were covered with rocks.

French said one section of road in Foxtrap was so badly damaged it is barricaded.

“We will be looking at millions of dollars, if not tens of millions. It’s a pretty significant force that has hit us,” said French.

Fagan's Road in Foxtrap. - Contributed
Fagan's Road in Foxtrap. - Contributed

Buildings risk falling into ocean

Bonavista also saw significant storm surge damage.

Mayor John Norman estimates it will cost at least $1 million to repair the sea wall that protects vulnerable and low-lying parts of the community.

The wall stretches multiple kilometres, and town officials have identified six different breaks or complete collapses of stretches of that wall, said Norman.

He said the community is hoping to get emergency federal funding “rather quickly."

Norman said there are some buildings that risk falling into the ocean if there’s another serious storm before the sea wall is fixed.

One area where the wall is damaged is immediately adjacent to homes that are now within 15 feet of the water’s edge.

“There’s really no time to wait,” said Norman.

“It was a really vicious storm. I’ve spoken to a number of residents in their 70s, 80s, 90s — they don’t recall a winter storm like this. They keep recalling back to hurricane Igor, and just add blinding snow.

“This is, to me, and to many of the council in Bonavista, climate change. We have seen serious storms just in the past 20 years in Bonavista ... getting worse and worse, especially when it comes to that storm surge.

“Of course, most areas in the world are seeing sea level rise. So, this isn’t going to get better. It’s likely going to get worse. So, we need to start really thinking about this seriously in various locations around the province, Bonavista just being one of them.”

In Bay Roberts, storm surge threw “big chunks” of ice onto roads near the coast, said Mayor Philip Wood.

“I noticed there was a set of steps — I don’t know where they came from — over on the road in Coley’s Point,” he said, sounding baffled.

“The high winds and the storm surge hit a few spots that I haven’t noticed in years that they’ve done anything, and in one spot by the Royal Canadian Legion — the property which is situated on the water — I never saw the ice, and storm surge and the waves coming over at that particular spot ever before.”

In nearby Spaniard’s Bay, Mayor Paul Brazil said there’s a section of road that runs close to the shoreline, and “large beach boulders” washed up onto the road.

From left, City of St. John’s deputy city manager of public works LynnAnn Winsor, St. John’s Mayor Danny Breen and St. John’s Regional Fire Department Deputy  Fire Chief of Operations Rick Mackey speak with reporters Wednesday at the City Depot administrative offices on Blackler Avenue. - Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
From left, City of St. John’s deputy city manager of public works LynnAnn Winsor, St. John’s Mayor Danny Breen and St. John’s Regional Fire Department Deputy Fire Chief of Operations Rick Mackey speak with reporters Wednesday at the City Depot administrative offices on Blackler Avenue. - Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

‘Huge impact’ to snowclearing budgets

While St. John’s Mayor Danny Breen said the city is not aware of any significant damage yet, he added there may be damage that’s still buried underneath the snow.

The capital city’s snowclearing budget is likely taking the biggest hit.

The city has all of its equipment on the roads, plus 13 extra pieces of equipment — along with operators — sent in from other towns, contractors and the province.

“And we’re expecting more,” he said.

It’s too early to put a dollar figure on the cost of the labour-intensive task, but Breen said the city will seek federal assistance to offset whatever it costs.

“Big cost is going to be overtime, and those are all eligible costs under the federal disaster relief program, so we’ll work with the province to get our refund on that,” said Breen.

It’s much the same scenario in Mount Pearl.

Mayor Dave Aker said the city is renting 10 dump trucks from local contractors to truck the snow to dumps because they’re running out of room to blow snow onto people’s lawns.

As well, the two daily eight-hour snowclearing shifts are upped to 12 hours, meaning 40 to 50 people are getting paid for four hours of overtime every weekday, plus overtime on the weekend.

“The cost, I would expect, is going to be fairly high simply because of the amount of snow we’ve had. … It’s never been seen before, and it’s going to take a long time to clean up,” said Aker.

He said Mount Pearl will also seek disaster assistance.

In C.B.S., on top of the town’s extensive storm surge damage, French said the blizzard also had a “huge impact” on the snowclearing fund.

“You never plan on having to double your snowclearing force in a storm, and that’s basically what we had to do.”

Spaniard’s Bay will also keep a close eye on its snowclearing expenses for the rest of the winter, said Brazil.

That community incurred extra snowclearing costs because it got every contractor in town — four altogether — to lend a hand.

"Unless we have a major melt, we’re going to be incurring an extensive form of snowclearing for the rest of the winter.” — Spaniard’s Bay Mayor Paul Brazil

Brazil said it’s his seventh year on the town council, and it’s the first time they’ve had to do that for a snowstorm.

“I know what we budgeted could easily not be sufficient, especially if we get any more snow in large amounts.”

And if temperatures don’t warm up, allowing snow to melt, Aker said this will likely be a cost that continues throughout the winter because snow will continuously need to be trucked away to dumps.

“We can’t just look at the cost that we see before us for this particular event. Unless we have a major melt, we’re going to be incurring an extensive form of snowclearing for the rest of the winter.”

Twitter: @juanitamercer_


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