Pelee Island 'open for business' despite erosion concerns, says deputy mayor

David Dawson says some beaches aren't what they once were but there's still shoreline access.

'I think we were fighting with a negative image early in the spring that the island was flooding'

Pelee Island is the southernmost part of Canada and is surrounded by a rising Lake Erie. (Bob Becken/CBC)

As the record high water levels on Lake Erie eat away at the edges of Pelee Island, the township wants to remind people that while the island is changing, it remains a prime tourist destination.

"We are open for business, let's make sure that's clear," said David Dawson, deputy mayor of Pelee, despite the region's conservation authority having extended a flood watch for the island.

Dawson said the new ferry has attracted people to the island and continues to work out early kinks as it enters its third month in service. 

"The boat's been pretty full ever since then," said Dawson, who said they're continuing to ramp up services on the boat — including an application for a liquor license which could bring alcohol service on-board next year.

'Fighting with a negative image'

Dawson said crews have been working as hard as they can to fix roads that are starting to erode as a result of increased water levels and a soggy spring that the southernmost tip of Canada has been experiencing. 

"I think everybody notices, once they land on the island, the high water levels and the shoreline erosion," said Dawson, noting some beaches have lost their beauty this decade because of the high water.

He said people may have heard about erosion issues through media reports in the spring, when a number of storms caused problems, including a loss of power that forced the island to run off a generator for months. 

A Canadian flag at the stern of the Pelee Islander as it sails in Lake Erie. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

"I think we were fighting with a negative image early in the spring that the island was flooding," he said, adding that the drainage system and pumps were still able to keep the island dry. 

Dawson explained that the island is "fighting mother nature everyday" and that the local government needs both provincial and federal funding to deal with the effects of high water levels. 

"Anytime we see the wind come up we get nervous, we get really nervous for shoreline erosion, it's a threat there's no doubt about it," he said. 

New ferry fixing early kinks

The new Pelee Islander II has been running since April, and Dawson said it's been able to operate under conditions the previous boat may not have been able to navigate.

At one point, the ferry terminal in Sandusky, Ohio was out of commission for a few days because of power troubles, but Dawson said they haven't run in to any major issues with the ferry itself.

"We have a few kinks in it, it's not a perfect boat," said Dawson, who is also chair of the town's transportation committee, which has dealt with complaints from residents about the ferry being behind schedule. 

"I think the new ferry, after start-up issues, has created some optimism and I think we're looking forward to a good season."


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