With dangerous conditions and lives 'at risk,' Malpeque pleads for new harbour

The Malpeque Harbour Authority along with the province are tired of on-going problems at Malpeque harbour. The channel is constantly filling in with sand and dredging isn't working.

'We've had half a dozen swampings or outright sinkings'

'Getting in and out of the port has been a challenge for 20 years,' says Martin MacDonald, president of the Malpeque Harbour Authority. (Laura Meader/CBC)

The Malpeque Harbour Authority says the channel which leads to the wharf in Malpeque is a dangerous place, and the group wants the federal government to fix the problem. 

The harbour authority says the channel is often not deep enough for boats. High winds and rough waters mean sand is constantly moving around and regular dredging doesn't seem to be helping. 

This summer, Cabot Beach Provincial Park, which has the beach right beside the channel, also didn't allow swimming because changing sand patterns were creating dangerous conditions. 

"We've had half a dozen swampings or outright sinkings," said Martin MacDonald, president of the Malpeque Harbour Authority. 

MacDonald has used the harbour for decades. His dad fished cod in the area in the late 1980s, was involved in the mussel aquaculture industry, and now works with oysters. 

"Getting in and out of the port has been a challenge for 20 years," he said.

Report looks at new wharf

The group, along with the province and Fisheries and Oceans Canada, formed a working group last year and hired engineering consultants to study the problem.

Martin MacDonald, president of the Malpeque Harbour Authority, points to a problem area in the channel near the harbour. (Laura Meader)

A report released in May looked at the economic importance of the wharf as well as a new wharf design to replace the current one. 

"It's a situation that's getting worse and worse," said Jamie Fox, minister of fisheries for P.E.I.

Fox said there's a significant danger with the current harbour and "lives are at risk." He said he's pushing for a commitment from the federal government to solve the problem by the end of December. 

Fox said it doesn't make sense to keep dredging when it's not improving the situation. 

"The problem is we have moving sand, and we don't really know how that sand is going to continue to move in the future," he said.

Fox said he would like to see a study on how sand is moving, which considers cutting a new channel to the current harbour or moving to a brand-new harbour altogether. 

"I want to see a safe transit harbour," he said. 

DFO looking for 'longer-term dredging contracts'

The federal department issued a statement saying "the safety and security of harvesters is a priority," adding that last year a new kind of dredging gear using propellor wash forces was tried.

A recent study said about 200 full-time equivalent jobs are based out of harbour. Boats used for mussels, crab, lobster and oysters have had on-going problems accessing the harbour due to sand build up. (Laura Meader/CBC )

The statement did not talk about a new wharf, but said the department "is also looking into developing longer-term dredging contracts for the area."

The report estimates maintenance costs for Malpeque to be $10 million over the next 25 years.

When adding in future dredging costs, infrastructure improvements and inflation,  the report projects total costs to be $39.3 million. MacDonald said the difference between maintaining the current wharf and building a new one is about $3 million. 

"We've done the leg work with Harbourside Engineering and MRSB to come up with the economic impact assessment of maintaining this wharf vs building a new wharf," he said.

MacDonald said dredging was done recently and two weeks later boats are already getting stuck again. He calls it a waste of money. 

"It's a very short-term fix," he said. "As of right now, moving the harbour seems to be the solution of choice."

A proposal for a new harbour is estimated to cost about $42 million. 

MacDonald said the new location would be safer, more sheltered and away from North Shore waves that boats have to deal with now.

"There's a substantial fear somebody will get hurt or injured."

More from CBC P.E.I.


Laura Meader is a video journalist for CBC P.E.I.


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