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Historic Brockville marina at risk over recent flooding

For most riverside residents in eastern Ontario, flooding is a springtime threat, but for Nelson Gilbert of Brockville, Ont., it has recently become a year-round concern that's putting his business at risk.

Owner of century-old business on St. Lawrence points to Canada-U.S. water management plan

The St. Lawrence River floods Gilbert Marine's docks on Nov. 1. (Nelson Gilbert/Submitted)

For most riverside residents in eastern Ontario, flooding is a springtime threat, but for Nelson Gilbert of Brockville, Ont., it has recently become a year-round concern that's putting his business at risk.

Gilbert owns Gilbert Marine on the St. Lawrence River. The marina has been in his family for roughly a century. He told CBC Radio's Ontario Morning high water levels flooded his facility for three months this year. If the trend continues, he said he may be out of business by next year.

"We had to wear rubber boots to slog through our flooded parking lot in our facilities," Gilbert said. "I had staff that just couldn't take it anymore. They gave up, and I don't blame them. It's not a nice thing to have to go to work to day after day."

Gilbert estimates the marina's shop was flooded by 30 centimetres of water during the summer. He said it was so bad most of his customers couldn't get their boats out on the water.

"My only customers this spring was the Coast Guard because they were the only boat on the river," he said.

Summertime revenue lost

Gilbert said he lost about 60 per cent of his summertime business due to the flooding.

"For a business that has eight gold weeks during the summer to make revenues for 52 [weeks], it's really insurmountable," he said.

The high water levels have continued to pose a problem well into the fall. Late last week, the marina's docks were damaged by encroaching water.

It hasn't always been this way, said Gilbert, who's pointing his finger at a water management strategy dubbed Plan 2014, which was actually implemented in 2017.

The plan was drawn up by the International Joint Commission (IJC), a bilateral organization created to oversee water management on lakes and river systems along the Canada-U.S. border, including the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River.

Gilbert said flooding was never an issue before, including during the mid-1980s when water levels posed a similar threat but were mitigated to prevent flooding at the marina.

"There's an unwillingness for the IJC to want to return back to those levels," Gilbert said.

Gilbert has started an online petition to have the IJC lower water levels on Lake Ontario before winter sets in. He's afraid if that doesn't happen, his marina will flood again next spring.

"All it's going to do is lead to destruction this coming spring," he said.

Gilbert's petition currently has over 5,000 signatures. A separate online petition to repeal Plan 2014 currently has over 27,000 signatures.

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