McNabs Island infrastructure suffering under repeated winter storms

A provincial park at the mouth of Halifax Harbour has taken a beating this season, with four storms in the last two weeks putting the finishing touches on a "very hard" winter.

Electricity shut off, road leading from the main public pier 'half gone'

Garrison Pier is the public access point for McNabs Island. (Shaina Luck/CBC)

A provincial park at the mouth of Halifax Harbour has taken a beating this season, with four storms in the last two weeks putting the finishing touches on a "very hard" winter. 

"It seems like every other week we seem to get more storm damage," said Derick Stoddard, the Department of Natural Resources area manager.

McNabs Island seen from the air. (novascotiaparks.ca)

McNabs is the largest island in Halifax Harbour, and part of a provincial park. It is the site of an annual cleanup each June by volunteers, who pick up hundreds of bags of garbage and other debris. The island houses a lighthouse, some historical buildings, and recreational trails. 

Stoddard said he and other DNR staff have visited the island over the last few months and there is still some storm cleanup to be done. A major blow was the toppling of power poles during the Christmas night windstorm, which also took down power poles in Eastern Passage. 

A broken power pole seen on McNabs Island near Garrison Pier in March 2018. (Courtesy: Rochelle Owen)

Nova Scotia Power has shut off electricity until the poles can be replaced, Stoddard said. That was supposed to be done in March, but recent storms have diverted the utility's attention elsewhere, and the replacement may be delayed. 

Stoddard said there are also some "hazard trees" down on trails that have to be cleaned up, and a significant amount of coastal erosion near Garrison Pier, the main entry point for the public. While the pier is intact, erosion is threatening the road leading from the pier. 

"It's pushed back to the point where we don't even have a usable road along there," he said. "It's one of the main, kind of backbone of the island, that particular road." 

Power poles on McNabs Island near Garrison Pier, March 2018. Some of the poles sustained some damage during winter storms. (Courtesy: Rochelle Owen)

"It's pushed back, it's all cobble now. It's half-gone. So we're looking at a possible road realignment in that location, so possibly pushing the road back up into the woods a little more, as well getting the power line up there, getting away from the coast a little bit." 

The road condition is a concern for Friends of McNabs Island, the non-profit group that helps preserve the island and gives public tours. 

The Conrad House is one of three historic homes left on the island. (Nina Corfu/CBC)

"It is suffering more storm damage in the last five years than ever," said Royce Walker, the vice-president of Friends of McNabs. Walker said he thinks the damage can be cleaned up by the time the high season for visiting the island begins this year, but it is a long-term problem. 

"We take people over on foot, but the cobbles are difficult to walk on," he said. "It's right at the head of Garrison Pier, where the boats from Halifax land. So when a large group goes over, they need to use that section of road to at least get to another section of trail that's in better condition." 

Stoddard said the damage includes the DNR service pier at Ives Cove. The timbers and stones that form the foundation of the wharf deck have shifted. As well, a window in one of the historic buildings has blown out. 

Environment Canada has an automated weather monitoring station on McNabs Island, but the agency confirmed the station was taken down by the Christmas Day windstorm and hasn't yet been repaired. 

McNabs Island is a popular spot for visitors and hikers during the summer months. (Louise Renault/CBC)

Stoddard said he thinks it will be possible for crews to complete the cleanup before people start to visit the island in the spring and summer months. He has been with DNR for 30 years, and called this season "very hard."  

"I would have to say it does stand out as one of the more damaging years as far as coastal parks go," he said.  

Stoddard said his department is still trying to figure out the cost of the repairs.