Nova Scotia

As Dorian approaches, some N.S. communities fear for aging wharfs

Some communities in southwest Nova Scotia are concerned their aging wharfs could be seriously damaged by Hurricane Dorian.

'Our wharf is 70 years old, it needs a lot of work. We're looking at a catastrophe one of these days.'

A fisherman in Bear Point, Shelburne County, N.S., struggles to secure his boat during a storm. (Shelly Hipson/Facebook)

With people across Atlantic Canada bracing for the impact of Hurricane Dorian, some communities in southwest Nova Scotia are concerned it could spell trouble for their aging wharfs.

Fishermen and harbour managers are spending much of the time before Dorian's arrival taking boats out of the water and securing lines.

But in many cases, the most vulnerable infrastructure can't be moved, and some harbour authorities are worried their wharfs will be no match for pounding surf and a storm surge.

Max Kenney, the harbourmaster at Cape Sable Island, said the wharfs on the eastern side of the island could be ripped apart by the storm.

'So decayed it just won't hold'

"If the vessels are tied to them, they could tear the posts off the wharf," he told CBC's Information Morning. "They don't actually break the posts no more, they just rip the bolts right out through the cement [of the wharf], which is so decayed it just won't hold."

Kenney said the eastern wharfs are over 60 years old, need major repairs and he worries they're only one storm away from disaster.

"They've seen a lot of storms," he said.

In preparation for Dorian, most of the boats on the eastern side of Cape Sable Island have been moved to the western side where it's more sheltered.

For Kevin Doane, board member of the Ingomar Harbour Authority, these are familiar concerns.

The federally-owned wharf at Gunning Cove, N.S., was underwater after a severe storm in January 2018. (Shelly Hipson/Facebook)

"Our wharf is 70 years old, it needs a lot of work," he said. "We're looking at a catastrophe one of these days."

Doane said because lobster boats are so much bigger than they used to be, the old wharfs are no longer adequate and are more vulnerable to damage in bad weather.

"Our boats are three times the size they were 20 years ago," he said.

In past storms, water has pooled on the wharf, creating dangerous conditions for fishermen tending to their boats.

Broken timbers under the wharf in Little Harbour, N.S. (Roddy Conrad)

But Doane said one of the biggest concerns at Ingomar is the rock wall protecting the harbour, which he said is too low and only extends partway across the harbour, leaving an opening for boats to get in and out.

Doane said in bad weather, water rushes in through the opening and creates a "whirlpool" in the harbour that knocks the boats around.

"My boat personally, I've busted the curbs three times," he said. "I have to move now, I can't leave my boat where my designated spot is because the other boats have been busted up."

Many boats already out of the water

For fishermen on the South Shore, the timing of Dorian is fortunate, all things considered.

Because it isn't currently lobster season, many boats aren't in the water. But even if this isn't the storm that spells disaster, Doane fears that disaster is coming.

"With some of the wharfs, especially as exposed as Ingomar is, the boats and everything would be destroyed," he said.

In the meantime, he said boats at Ingomar would be staying put, as the closest safe harbour is two hours away and already overcrowded, which means Doane and other boat owners will be riding out the storm at the wharf.

"We'll be over there most of the night, making sure our lines don't break," he said.

Follow the live weather blog

Keep up to date on Hurricane Dorian with the CBC Maritimes live weather blog, updated every day.

With files from CBC's Information Morning