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LETTER: Location for Waterford Hospital replacement is worrying

Flooding along Prince Philip Parkway in St. John’s during hurricane Igor in 2010.
Flooding along Prince Philip Parkway in St. John’s during hurricane Igor in 2010. - Contributed

As founder and Co-Chair of the “Tickleswim for Mental Health,” a 5-km swim across the Bell Island Tickle which raises both funds and awareness for mental health programming in our province, mental health advocacy is one of my absolute top priorities.

I would like to commend the province for stepping up to replace the Waterford Hospital with a badly needed facility that addresses innovative approaches to mental health services that will benefit many in need. The existing deficiencies of the Waterford Hospital has seen a long-time call from mental health advocacy groups and the All-Party Committee on Mental Health and we are all so pleased to see action finally being taken.

I do however, have some serious concerns about the province’s newly announced RFP for the build of this mental health facility and, thus, the reason for my letter.

I am incredibly supportive of the concept of “co-locating” the mental health facility with the existing health services as it will reduce stigma for patients who require and will benefit from a more holistic service approach.

The location, however, is problematic as it is slated to be constructed within the city’s existing floodplain. Climate Change is a real and present danger with increasing and volatile weather patterns, demanding the necessity for sustainable development and proper floodplain management.

The plan is to build out southwards towards the parkway from the original Health Sciences facility into the city of St. John’s floodplain. History has shown that the flow of water from the Leary’s Brook system has been very precarious, so, it is inconceivable that the province would pursue building within an area that has a substantial and proven flood history. I am certain that many can remember the effects of hurricane Igor on the Prince Philip Parkway (see attached photo).

Engagement has occurred with the Pippy Park Commission, Memorial University of NL and with the City of St. John’s, where many concerns have been voiced regarding the proposed location of this extension. The City of St. John’s wrote a letter to Transportation and Works Minister Steve Crocker in May, 2018, asking that the province work within the confines of our municipal regulations, however, the RFP has just been announced with plans proceeding. The age-old practice of engineered mitigation instead of working with existing water-flow management has to stop. Development in the floodplain cannot only impact the subject site but also have unintended consequences outside the immediate HSC area as water is diverted elsewhere during extreme flood events.

The Health Sciences Centre, working with government, has an opportunity to adjust the proposed building plans to ensure the extension is built slightly north on the HSC property, out of the floodplain. There is still time at this early stage and I implore them to do so. This would create a win-win scenario that would divert future flooding of valuable city infrastructure while also providing the city with a long overdue mental health facility replacement.

Sheilagh O’Leary

Deputy Mayor

City of St. John’s

Related story: and Labrador’s new Waterford Hospital moving to Health Sciences Centre

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