Outdated infrastructure behind Sydney flood, says regional councillor

A long-time municipal councillor in Sydney says the areas sewers, water mains, culverts and road bridges are no longer up to the task of coping with heavy rainfall.

District 6 Coun. Ray Paruch predicts it will happen again; mayor calls it 100-year event

The first floor of the Drohan home on St. Peter's Road was swamped in Monday's flooding in Sydney. (Terry Drohan)

A long-time municipal councillor in Sydney says the area's sewers, water mains, culverts and road bridges are no longer up to the task of coping with heavy rainfall.

Ray Paruch represents District 6 in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, which includes the neighbourhood where the worst of the flooding from Monday's rain storm was concentrated.

Family homes were inundated by floodwater; a community centre, an elementary school and a church were also swamped.

Paruch said Sydney's infrastructure is outdated.

"Any time we would have a major rainfall in the area, this area always floods," he said. "The infrastructure is not up to speed to accommodate heavy deluges of rain and this one here, it's over and above."

The municipal for District 6, Ray Paruch, predicts massive flooding in CBRM could happen again. (CBC)

Paruch said a number of homeowners have described a wave of water sweeping down toward their houses from two adjacent hilly neighbourhoods. The nearby Wash Brook also overran its banks early in the storm.

Not enough money

Paruch said municipal council and staff are well aware of problems with CBRM's infrastructure, some of which is 100 years old, but are not able to fix them.

"It all comes down to money," he said. "We're a cash-strapped municipal unit. We don't have enough money. 

"I don't think there's enough money in the provincial treasury to replace all the infrastructure in the former City of Sydney and if you did, you have the outlying areas like Glace Bay that are in likewise position as we are."

Regional Mayor Cecil Clarke, however, said limited infrastructure was not the problem in the case of Monday's flooding. Flooding was caused by the rain falling, he said, not water burbling up from the underground stormwater system.

A perfect example, he said, was on Whitney Avenue, where rushing floodwaters cascaded from the pavement into a recently built waste-water installation. 

Water rushes into the Wash Brook over Whitney Avenue Monday. The dark object in the centre is part of newly installed waste-water infrastructure. (Lachlan MacKinnon)

'Such an anomaly'

"This is such an anomaly that no system would have been able to accommodate that much rain. Any city would have been deluged at the same time."

Clarke said 2017 is already shaping up to be one of CBRM's biggest-ever years for public works and new infrastructure. "It's for manhole covers, it's for waste water, transit," he said.

But he contends that none of it, if it had been installed earlier, would have made a difference on Monday.

Paruch, however, said CBRM must determine what it can do to mitigate flood problems in the future, especially if heavier rain becomes the norm.

"Second verse, same as the first. You'll have a repeat of what you have here. If we got a month and a half of rain in 12 hours, the outcome would be the same," he said.

"We've got people here who have lost their homes. We've got people in hotels that'll never go back to their homes. That situation must be addressed. I think we have to take this on." 

With files from Tom Murphy, Mainstreet Cape Breton