Fixing CBRM's flood problem could cost more than $24M

Municipal council discusses a report that examines mitigation measures for the worst-hit area in the 2016 Thanksgiving Day flood.

Consultant's report calls for Wash Brook retention ponds, control structures and other measures

The record rainfall on Thanksgiving Day 2016 brought a torrent of water that flooded hundreds of homes and businesses, and turned roads into rivers. (Vaughan Merchant/Canadian Press)

A consultant's report that went before Cape Breton Regional Municipality council Tuesday calls for more than $24 million in public works to prevent flooding.

Council asked for the report after Sydney's Wash Brook inundated homes on Thanksgiving Day 2016.

Mayor Cecil Clarke and the representative for the neighbourhood hit hardest by flooding, District 6 councillor Ray Paruch, said the municipality will need help paying for flood mitigation measures.

"Everybody has to keep in mind money is the key ingredient, and the CBRM does not have the money on its own to rectify the situation with the Wash Brook," Paruch said.

District 6 councillor Ray Paruch says the engineer's report is a good first step, but CBRM will need help paying for flood controls. (CBC)

According to the report from engineering consultants CBCL, if all the proposed flood controls were implemented, the estimated total cost would amount to $24,273,000.

The report offers a range of options to control flooding in Wash Brook, which wends its way down from the high ground at Sydney's outer edge to the flat lowlands around the former tar ponds site.

Council spent about an hour listening to a presentation from CBCL engineer Alexander Wilson who outlined the 15 measures that could be undertaken to help mitigate flooding in the flood-prone areas of Sydney. Of those, 11 are considered of "low" effectiveness. One measure would have a medium impact and three would have "high" effectiveness.

Council considers options

Wilson told council little can be done in the lowest lying areas of the city that flood naturally every time there's a significant rainfall.

Coun. Amanda McDougall said given the "hefty prices" attached to the mitigation measures, council needs to consider what it can do.

"We have to stop letting people build in these areas. I wish we could go back in time and protect them. But now we see it on paper. There's no other option. There's a low probability that these options are even going to be effective because water is much more powerful than any of us."

Paruch said it's time to consider a non-development zone in the south end of Sydney where the province purchased more than a dozen homes that had to be demolished following the 2016 flood.

"I can see the day fast approaching where they're [the province] going to will that land to us that they presently own, and we're cash strapped financially and we'll end up — if there's not a non-development zone — we'll end up selling it and we'll start the trend all over again."

A report from CBCL engineering consultants suggests a series of flood controls and stormwater retention ponds along the Wash Brook in Sydney. (Cape Breton Regional Municipality)

Possible flood controls in the report include control structures at Gilholmes Lake and Mud Lake to slow the flow of water beyond Highway 125, and stormwater retention ponds along the brook between Highway 125 and Townsend Street.

Suggested stormwater retention pond locations are:

  • South of Whitney Avenue near former hospital.
  • South of Royal Avenue near the former South End community centre.
  • At the existing walking track near Cabot Street.
  • South of Centennial Arena.
  • South of Sherwood Park Education Centre.
  • South of Highway 125 near the end of Duffell Drive.

The report also suggests diverting some water from Wash Brook to Wentworth Creek through a large culvert at Trinity Avenue, expanding the channel between Townsend and Prince to match the one connecting the brook to the former tar ponds, and diverting some water through a culvert under the railway bridge near Prince Street.

More than 200 millimetres of rain fell on Thanksgiving Day 2016, swelling Wash Brook and forcing residents out of 20 homes. Many have since been bought by the province and torn down.

Near-flood conditions arose in the same area earlier this year after a brief spring storm brought about 50 millimetres of rain.

No-development zone?

CBRM planning staff are working on an issue paper examining the possibility of declaring part of the Wash Brook watershed a no-development zone, but planning director Malcolm Gillis said recently staff were waiting for the results of the engineering consultant's study before presenting it to council.

Flooding has been a persistent problem in Wash Brook, Clarke said, much like flooding experienced elsewhere in the country, including recently in New Brunswick and B.C. He said the consultant's report will help the municipality prioritize and seek financial help from other levels of government.

CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke says flooding is a persistent problem along the Wash Brook, and other levels of government will need to move quickly on funding a solution. (CBC)

And, the mayor said, that needs to happen soon.

"We never know when another weather event is going to hit us, so time is not something we want to waste right now," Clarke said.

Jean Doue said her home on Union Street has been hit with significant flood damage four times since the 2016 Thanksgiving Day flood.

She is glad there's a report now suggesting ways to fix the problem, but she's not sure if it's feasible or affordable.

"I was certainly hoping that it would have been an easier thing to fix," Doue said. "Find something that went wrong up there in 2016 and say, 'Ah, this is what happened and we can fix it,' but apparently that's not the situation."

Clarke and Paruch said once council adopts the consultant's report, input will be sought from residents affected by the flooding and other levels of government will be called for financial aid.

The CBCL report estimates the cost of flood control measures on the Wash Brook at just over $24 million, including structures from outside Highway 125 to Townsend Street. (Cape Breton Regional Municipality)

About the Author

Tom Ayers

Reporter/Editor

Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for 32 years. He has spent the last 14 years covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at tom.ayers@cbc.ca.

With files from Gary Mansfield and Wendy Martin

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