New Brunswick

How ready is the Acadian Peninsula for the next big storm?

A year ago, a devastating ice storm battered the province, and in the aftermath, two things were made clear: an extreme storm will likely happen again, and when it does, we need to be better prepared.

Ice storm last year kept hardest-hit parts of peninsula in the dark for two weeks

The Acadian Peninsula was the area hardest hit by last year's ice storm. (CBC)

A year ago, an ice storm ravaged the province and plunged 300,000 New Brunswickers in the dark.

Authorities called it the worst natural crisis in the province's history and on day four, the army was called in to help.

In the aftermath, two things were made clear — with climate change, such an extreme weather event will likely happen again. And when it does, New Brunswick needs to be better prepared.

Since that time, some municipalities have improved their emergency plans.

In Lamèque, generators have been purchased for water and sewer infrastructure to ensure access to running water isn't an issue during the next outage. 

Because they were without power for about two weeks, Lamèque residents didn't have any water during or after the storm.

Members of Base Gagetown's 5th Division recently paid a visit to Lamèque, to thank people for their hospitality during the ice storm. (CBC)

"We're more prepared," said Dave Brown, Lamèque town manager, adding the town has also been trying to make sure residents have their own 72-hour survival kits.

In Tracadie, the largest town on the Acadian Peninsula, a transmission antenna was built to broadcast emergency messages to the entire peninsula during a prolonged outage.

It's hooked up to a generator so it's completely independent.

It will also be able to air messages on the radio to ensure important information is communicated, a weakness identified during a provincial review of the response to the 2017 crisis. 

Tracadie installed a transmission antenna to broadcast messages to the entire peninsula. (CBC)

Stronger power infrastructure

But perhaps the biggest changes were those made by NB Power.

Last year, freezing rain fell over the course of a day and a half, leaving behind 50 mm of ice on the ground and on power lines, more than New Brunswick had ever experienced.

With it, the storm revealed weaknesses in the power infrastructure — power lines crumbled under the weight of the ice, kilometres of cable had to be replaced.

Six hundred poles fell to the ground, many of them toppling like dominos.

In Pidgeon Hill, more than a dozen poles in a row crumbled like dominoes. (CBC)

In the aftermath, NB Power engineers identified the grid's weak spots — in other words, the first of the power poles to snap, taking down others with it, or what it calls a "storm point."

About a dozen such poles were identified, and anchored stronger into the ground.

NB Power CEO Gaetan Thomas believes the system is now more reliable, and extreme weather events will become common on the East Coast.

"That's why we're taking all the steps to make sure our system is stronger," Thomas said.

"So today, if we get 50 mm of ice, some poles will fall … but not 600 of them."

Gaetan Thomas believes the power infrastructure is now more reliable than it was a year ago. (CBC)

Work to strengthen the storm points will continue over the next three years, at a rate of about a dozen poles each year.

On the Shippagan-Lamèque bridge, where the winds are often fierce, workers did away with the wooden poles earlier this month, replacing them with sturdier steel poles.

Seventeen were replaced.

"Steel poles, there is no opportunity for the poles to actually break by any means," said Josh Gilmore, construction manager with NB Power.

"And the big part of this is the foundation of these — being set in the concrete, that really increases the stability of the structure."

Josh Gilmore and his team installed steel poles on the Shippagan-Lameque bridge earlier in January. (CBC)

Some places lagging behind

While progress has been made in some places, not all are on equal footing.

One full year after the ice storm, while the New Brunswick government has paid homeowners and businesses who made claims through the disaster financial assistance program, it has yet to reimburse most municipalities for costs incurred during the storm.

In fact, 19 out of 23 municipalities who submitted claims have yet to see the money — amounts usually ranging in the low hundreds of thousands.

Conrad Godin, mayor of Sainte-Marie-Saint-Raphael, said he's grown exasperated waiting for government to offer his small community disaster relief. (Nicolas Steinbach)

That's a lot for places with few financial resources and that were hit hard by the storm, like the small village of Sainte-Marie-Saint-Raphael.

There, authorities haven't been able to afford so much as a generator to prepare for the next storm.

Conrad Godin, Sainte-Marie-Saint-Raphael mayor, said he gave his all during the storm and has become exasperated with the province's response.

"This part, now, I find that hard," he said. "It's very frustrating."


Gabrielle Fahmy is a reporter based in Moncton. She's been a journalist with the CBC since 2014.