There has been much coverage in the news in recent months about the desperate need for a new mental health care facility to replace the aging Waterford Hospital, and I applaud the provincial government for responding to this need by committing to construct a new, modern facility to meet 21st Century approaches to mental health care.
I do, however, have some major concerns with the site location for this new facility which places it squarely in the floodplain of Leary’s Brook.
This area has experienced severe flooding on a number of occasions in recent decades, and while engineers have suggested that the placement of a berm around the new facility would mitigate flooding concerns for the building, it would exacerbate already existing flood concerns along the length of the river system while also increasing stream velocity and scouring or erosion of the riverbanks.
For several decades I have worked with organizations that strive toward excellence in the education, advocacy and stewardship of our river systems, and to inspire the protection, conservation and enhancement of freshwater ecosystems within the Northeast Avalon region of Newfoundland and Labrador. When the watershed groups were first formed, Leary’s Brook was very much a channelized stream bearing little habitat diversity for salmonids or wildlife to thrive.
Over the next couple of decades, numerous volunteers committed untold thousands of hours of time and energy to rehabilitate Leary’s Brook and create a habitat where fish and fowl can again reside. Countless hours and considerable funding has also been spent to restore wild Atlantic Salmon populations to this river, which coincidentally, ties in with Fisheries Minister Gerry Byrne’s recent speech highlighting the Year of the Salmon that was celebrated at The Fluvarium earlier this month.
Construction of a 15,000-square foot facility in the floodplain of Leary’s Brook will undo much of these past efforts, while further jeopardizing flood risks of all development downstream adjacent to the banks of the Rennie’s River.
Residents in this area are already victims of periodic flooding, and displacing highwater from around the medical centre with the construction of a berm will increase the height and frequency of this risk.
This proposal is also in direct violation of our own provincial government’s development regulations as defined in the Water Resources Act. Furthermore, under the Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment, issued in March 2014, the province developed a Policy for Floodplain Management in which it states that “Under the Canada-Newfoundland Flood Damage Reduction Program, both governments agreed that public funds would not be used or provided for development projects in flood-risk areas.”
To summarize, it is incumbent upon the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to respect their own regulations and to select an alternative site for the new mental health facility which would not encroach on an existing floodplain and damage a river system which we have all fought to protect. In the Year of the Salmon, it is crucial that we recognize this river system as once thriving with salmon, particularly as reintroduction efforts are ongoing.