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EDITORIAL: Sinking feeling

The floodplain area in front of the Health Sciences Centre in St. John's, circa 2017. — Russell Wangersky/The Telegram
The floodplain area in front of the Health Sciences Centre in St. John's, circa 2017. — Russell Wangersky/The Telegram

Province insists new Waterford won’t be at risk for flooding

There’s an apocryphal statement about the Titanic: “Not even God himself could sink this ship.” It was supposedly made by an employee of the White Star Line as the ship was launched in 1911.

Another quote about the Titanic’s sinking is easier to source: “If you look in your dictionary you will find: Titans — A race of people vainly striving to overcome the forces of nature. Could anything be more unfortunate than such a name, anything more significant?” That was from Arthur Rostron, the captain of the Carpathia, which steamed to try and rescue passengers and crew after the Titanic sank.

We bring you this titanic diversion as a duo of provincial cabinet ministers pronounce that they have no concerns about building the province’s new mental health complex on a flood plain.

It’s interesting to hear him boasting of how effective those berms will be, especially at a time when the province, as regulator , hasn’t even given permission for the berms to be built yet.

They are absolutely certain that new earthen berms will hold back any potential flooding: as Works and Transportation Minister Steve Crocker put it, with Health Minister John Haggie standing by, “There is a challenge with regards to climate change but we are quite confident from what we’ve seen from the experts in this field that we can certainly mitigate that risk.”

Time will tell if pride cometh before a flood.
But back to the two berms, which will surround Leary’s Brook on two sides.

As Crocker said Tuesday, “The berms will make it safer for everybody … the berms make that entire piece of the city, at least, safer.”

It’s interesting to hear him boasting of how effective those berms will be, especially at a time when the province, as regulator, hasn’t even given permission for the berms to be built yet.

Flooding on Prince Philip Drive in front of the Health Sciences Centre during hurricane Igor in 2010.
Flooding on Prince Philip Drive in front of the Health Sciences Centre during hurricane Igor in 2010.

Remember, Eastern Health was so certain that its original berm plan would be rubber-stamp approved by the provincial government that that they started building it before the province even finished the environmental assessment process. Clearly, their view was that the environmental permissions were a fait accompli. They had to be ordered to stop by the province’s Environment Department.

The same is true for Ministers Crocker and Haggie: the twin berm solution they’re now promoting as an ultimate solution (which came about after the first environmental assessment suggested a single berm would merely redirect flooding away from the hospital but into other roadways and buildings) is now in the midst of a new environmental assessment and, unless the ministers know something we don’t, approval is not a given.

Perhaps the fix — or at least the berm — is in.

It’s part of a problem we’ve highlighted before: when a government is both a proponent and a regulator — and that extends to everything from oil projects to massive fish farms — it’s tough to have confidence that the proper homework is being done on the regulation side of the balance sheet.

Thank goodness that ship is so darned unsinkable.

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