New Brunswick

Home purchased by province was built in flood area just 3 years ago

A Nauwigewauk home purchased in December by the province for $295,000 was just built on the flood-prone area three years earlier with approval from New Brunswick's Environment Department.

Nauwigewauk house to be removed so road can be raised above flood levels

New Brunswick's Department of Environment approved construction of this three-year-old home at 25 Darlings Island Road but was recently forced to buy it for a flood-related road project. (Youtube)

A Nauwigewauk home purchased in December by the province for $295,000 was built on the flood-prone approach to Darlings Island three years earlier with all the necessary approvals from New Brunswick's Environment Department and the local regional service commission.

The house at 25 Darlings Island Rd. was constructed on a lot raised several feet with the addition of fill. 

During the flood last May, the house sat on a small island surrounded by rising waters that also covered the road it fronts.

The Department of Transportation and Infrastructure has purchased the home to allow the raising and realigning of Darlings Island Road to ensure islanders have access to their homes during future flooding. It's looking for a buyer, who will have to remove the house. 

The road to Darlings Island has been submerged in places on several occasions over the past decade.

The home's former owner, retired firefighter Paul Thompson, admits some people in the area raised questions about building on the site, but he said he met all the requirements, including the hiring of a delineation consultant to determine the high-water mark for the Hammond River.

Just prior to the sale to the province, the home was assessed at $298,000, which was $3,000 more than the purchase price, he said.

"We put our heart and soul into this place," said Thompson, who is now a volunteer with the Nauwigewauk Fire Department.

The relatively new home at 25 Darlings Island Road was put up for sale by the New Brunswick government and must be removed by the new owner. (Brian Chisholm, CBC)

He said his approval to build on the site was issued around 2004 and waited more than a decade to begin because of the large amount of fill required to raise the lot.

But the construction and subsequent purchase of the home points to a lack of firm planning by the province and other levels of government when it comes to development in flood-prone areas.

Brian Barne, a former deputy minister with the Department of Environment, said the province began mapping floodplains in the late 1970s and continued into the 1980s, but the maps were often ignored.

"The maps came out, there was not a buy-in from either the province or the municipalities, or the real estate agents, or anyone," said Barnes. 

Fast forward four decades and little has changed.

Barne said there is too much pressure from all sides to allow waterfront construction.

Cites lack of plan

Steve Roberts, executive director of Regional Service District 8, which issued the building permit for 25 Darlings Island Road, said the problem is the lack of planning.

"And that isn't just in Nauwigewauk and Darlings Island," he said. "That can be carried through for a lot of the Local Service Districts. There's no planning in a lot of them and therefore it's very difficult to — sort of — have zones and, I guess, some regulations on what you can and can't do.

But Roberts said things are going to tighten up. A draft rural plan has been posted on the website of Regional Service Commission 8. It will include the local service districts of Nauwigewauk and Hampton has a section on development within floodplains, watercourses and wetlands.

In the past, rushing in to help out, you were helping out that one-in-50-year flood. Well, the one-in-50-year flood has now happened twice in the past 10 years."- Lisa Hrabluk, author

The bottom line is that construction in areas within 30 metres of watercourses and wetlands will continue to be allowed if a provincial watercourse and wetland alteration permit is purchased.

The WAWA permit lays out the conditions under which the construction can take place.

Where the current system will allow many kinds of businesses, the new LSD rules will limit what can be built to single-family homes.

Roberts anticipates the rural plan will be in place well before the end of this year.

The Department of Environment and Local Government did not respond to an interview request.

Author Lisa Hrabluk says the province should listen to experts. (Brian Chisholm, CBC)

Spokesperson Erika Jutras wrote in an email that since the spring floods, people applying for WAWA permits have to demonstrate "avoidance and minimization" in their plans to rebuild. 

"Many local governments and local service districts incorporate flood risk management in their planning documents," Jutras said.

Lisa Hrabluk said she travelled up and down the Saint John River system, talking to property owners, experts and river conservation groups, for her book, New Brunswick Underwater.

She noted the province has applied for federal disaster relief funding eight times in the past seven years, often for flood relief.

More frequent floods

She said a rapidly changing climate will only drive up the costs to taxpayers, something that is not now being discussed.

She suggested a broad conversation to make plans for what lies ahead without trying to establish blame for mistakes of the past.   

"Politicians absolutely want to rush in to help out, and I think that's wonderful," Hrabluk said. "However, it's different now. In the past rushing in to help out, you were helping out that one-in-50-year flood. Well, the one-in-50-year flood has now happened twice in the past 10 years."

She said some firm rules need to established on both where to build and on who will pick up the bill when things go wrong.

"Any level of government that is managing land, they need to be listening to the experts and they need to hold firm with some really strong guidelines on what we're going to do."

About the Author

Connell Smith is a reporter with CBC in Saint John. He can be reached at 632-7726 Connell.smith@cbc.ca