LITTLE ANSE: Despite having doors slammed in its face for more than a decade, a local group will continue trying to fix an aging breakwater that no longer protects the community.
Constructed in 1948, the breakwater in Little Anse has lost a significant amount of armour stone, the structure has large open spaces and the surface has been heavily damaged in its 70 years guarding the shoreline.
A powerful storm in January, 2006 breached the aging breakwater, damaged the wharf and completely flooded the main road to the community.
“It rendered the road to Little Anse impassable for quite some time,” Little Anse resident Rod Samson recalled. “They tried to clear it up and they busted tires and they weren’t able to do it with plows so they hired front-end loaders to clean up the debris and make it passable.”
The next month, Samson formed a sub-committee of the Little Anse Social Action Centre committee dedicated to dealing with the breakwater.
The five person group met and drafted a letter to all elected officials and levels of government looking for financial support and guidance in how to find a solution. Samson said the responses “were not very favourable.”
“Everyone said the same thing, ‘it’s not our problem,’” Samson stated.
In January 2009, high seas, gale force winds and a powerful tidal surge again breached the breakwater, damaging the community’s wharf and, once again, flooding the main road.
In 2010, the committee commissioned an engineering study directed by Strait Engineering, who hired Ontario firm Baird and Associates. They provided three different scenarios, repair the existing structure, change the direction of the existing breakwater, or construct a second breakwater on the opposite side of the harbour. The cost estimates ranged from $2.1 million to $4.7 million.
The group continued lobbying and received confirmation from the office of Cape Breton-Canso MP Rodger Cuzner that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) does own the breakwater.
“We got an e-mail back from [former Fisheries and Oceans Minister Gail Shea], stating that they’d spent money in Petit de Grat on the new boat area and Little Anse was no longer considered a core harbour, therefore they didn’t feel they needed to spend money on a failing breakwater,” Samson recalled.
Following that rejection, the group continued lobbying and were successful in getting former Richmond MLA Michel Samson to question the then NDP government. This resulted in the Darrell Dexter government committing funds to raise the height of the Little Anse road.
After being elected as a Richmond municipal councillor for district 1 in 2012, Samson traveled to Ottawa to meet with the deputy minister of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
“I made a power-point presentation and I made sure all the information he got that was previously sent, made it to his hands,” he recalled. “It felt like we were going to get somewhere, some guidance or something of that nature, but that didn’t work out.”
These negative responses began to take a toll on the group and it disbanded briefly after losing members, Samson said.
“When you believe in something and someone’s always saying no, it’s hard to get back up and go again,” he said.
With the road flooding “annually” during storms, Samson said the community received good news in 2014 when it was selected to host a table-top exercise as part of the “C-Change” international coastal erosion study headed by Arichat resident Dan Lane, a former professor at the University of Ottawa.
Lane reached out to Samson about their climate change study of rural communities, and Little Anse was selected to be studied.
“I think it helped get our story out to the public,” Samson said.
A subsequent meeting with federal Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc in 2015 confirmed that because Little Anse is no longer considered a Core Community Harbour, the DFO could not help, but LeBlanc did investigate whether funding could be obtained through the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.
Not long after this meeting, Samson approached Isle Madame firm Superior Contracting to remove the heavily damaged and unused wharf. Although they were unable to fund the removal, they did confirm it was built by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
At the same time, Samson was provided with an estimate of approximately $1 million from Superior Contracting to replace missing armour stone and repair the surface of the breakwater.
A meeting with a group in Gabarus, which was successful in lobbying government to upgrade a seawall protecting their community, provided the Little Anse group with unexplored avenues for funding and different ideas to reach their goals, Samson said.
As a result, Samson said he is reviving the committee in February with new members and a new focus.
“My job as a community advocate is to re-invent the community again, to have people that aren’t scared of no and have them on this committee and move forward,” Samson said.
Samson said the committee plans to keep up the pressure on all levels of government and will invite members of the Gabarus community group to again speak with them about their experiences.
“I think people around here need a pick-me-up of some kind, need a little bit of encouragement, and not necessarily from people they know,” he said. “I think people that have experienced what we’re experiencing; it should go a long way in motivation.”
Late last year, École Beau-Port hosted a screening of the documentary Only 78 which detailed the fight by residents of Gabarus, and also featured the efforts of Little Anse to fix their barrier from the sea.
During the storms on Christmas Day and January 4, Samson said the breakwater did little to protect the community. The only saving grace was recent work by the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal to raise the main road by approximately two feet.
“The last storm we had, the surge we had, the waves weren’t even breaking at the breakwater, they were breaking in the harbour,” he pointed out. “The road did [flood], not as bad as before.
“The storms are getting more frequent, and the storm surges are definitely more frequent, and with nothing helping to break the waves coming in, it’s just inevitable.”
Samson added that although flooded basements, wells and septic tanks are real possibilities that raise important questions, the most serious consequences of this inaction lie in the impacts on public health and safety.
“We had people here on oxygen, some people are ill, still staying at home,” he pointed out. “When you have these storms, there’s no ambulance, there’s no fire truck getting through. I’m hoping that it doesn’t take a life to realize that this is something pretty serious and something has to be done.”