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High water level, failing infrastructure leaves Old Lakeshore Road vulnerable to collapse

Troy Shantz A stretch of Sarnia’s Lake Huron shoreline is just one big storm away from “catastrophe,” said city construction manager Rob Williams. “I don’t want to sugar coat it. It could be become dire.
Crews make emergency shoreline repairs to what used to be Blackwell Beach on Oct. 26. Troy Shantz

Troy Shantz

A stretch of Sarnia’s Lake Huron shoreline is just one big storm away from “catastrophe,” said city construction manager Rob Williams.

“I don’t want to sugar coat it. It could be become dire.”

Structural failures are occurring up and down the four-kilometre stretch of shore between Rainbow Cove and Cow Creek in Bright’s Grove.

Erosion caused by high water levels and north winds has eaten into the shoreline in at least nine different places and is starting to threaten parts of Old Lakeshore Road.

In fact, the danger zone includes the area where sections of the road disappeared during a lake storm in the 1970s and were never replaced.

Last month, the city retained Van Bree Drainage and Bulldozing to do emergency repairs at Rainbow Cove and near Marion Street, using stone patches to plug and prop up failing steel walls.

But the repairs are temporary and a more permanent fix requiring engineering and large armour stones is needed, Williams warned.

“We don’t have the money to do engineered repairs in all locations, but we’re trying to make sure we don’t see any catastrophic loss as well,” he said.

Loose rocks piled behind a collapsing seawall near Marion Street in Bright's Grove last month is all that separates a slumping bank and Old Lakeshore Road from Lake Huron.Photo courtesy, City of Sarnia staff report.

“In most cases the road is protected, to varying degrees, and that’s why we moved so quickly.”

Blackwell Beach at the foot of Blackwell Side Road has all but disappeared since The Journal first reported it was eroding in October of 2016.

Waves have stripped sand from the once popular beach and eaten deeply into the shoreline behind a buckled steel seawall.

Crews were back on Oct. 26 attempting to shore up and stop more clay bank from disappearing.

Sarnia needs $32 million worth of shoreline protection, according to a recent staff report, most of it in Bright’s Grove.

Although some new stone groynes and shore revetments have been installed, including one at Kenwick Street this year, much of what’s in place to protect the four-kilometre stretch from wave action has failed.

The problem is compounded by Lake Huron’s water level, which is slightly higher than last year at this time and 57 centimetres (22 inches) above the mean level of the past decade, Williams said.

“We don’t have groynes, we don’t have beach, and our shoreline walls are failing. That’s basically Bright’s Grove in a nutshell.”

Sarnia has earmarked $600,000 for shoreline protection in the 2019 draft budget.

Ideally that money would be used for long-term solutions, but could be needed for emergency repairs should a violent storm strike, he said.

City staff is working on engineering plans for Blackwell, two sections in front of Bright’s Grove School, and Christina Street beach.

Other threatened spots are at Cow Creek and east and west of the Cull Drain.

“We have no shortage of projects to go to but I don’t know if we’re going to have enough money for all of those,” Williams said.

“Without a crystal ball we don’t know when we’re back to our next emergency repair, but right now it’s prudent to react and do what we can.”

The St. Clair Conservation Authority has also applied for assistance from Infrastructure Canada’s disaster mitigation relief fund, he added.

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