Windsor

Record water levels are threatening Canada's southernmost community

Pelee Island's mayor says he's "very concerned" about how the shoreline is being damaged by water and wind.

Lake Erie is currently on pace to beat water level records set more than 30 years ago

The shoreline of Pelee Island is being hit hard by rising waters and strong winds. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

The thousands of tourists who will make their way to Pelee Island this summer may not notice the way waves and wind coming off Lake Erie are ripping away pieces of the shoreline — but it's happening, and it's an urgent matter, says the mayor.

"We're very concerned," said Ray Durocher, who was elected as mayor last year. He's dealing with a problem that previous mayors have also faced over the decades. 

The last great flood was in 1972, recalls Durocher, when a storm rolled across Lake Erie.

"It washed away five cottages and flooded the island where it took forty days to empty the island," said Durocher. 

That was back when Lake Erie's water level was lower. Now the level is nearing record highs and threatening cottages.

A new ferry connected to an old road

A couple hundred people live on Pelee Island, but it's the summer tourism season that draws in visitors looking to visit wineries, beaches and cottages.

A new ferry, the Pelee Island II, is how people get to Canada's southernmost community. However, raging west winds and high waters are putting the old road that people use once they get off the ferry in danger. 

Pelee Island mayor Ray Durocher says the tax base is too small to fund the shoreline improvements without help from the federal and provincial government.

"We've had a couple wind events where we had to repair areas of the road but they're just temporary fixes," said Durocher, adding that they need large stones along the shoreline to protect the road. 

Without it, he said, the road starts to crumble.

According to the United States Army of Corps of Engineers, the average water level on Lake Erie this month is currently 175.03 metres, on track to beat the record high of 174.97 metres in 1986.

A $10-million solution but a small tax base

On the other side of the island, it's wind from the east that's threatening cottages. But so far, Durocher said, they haven't experienced a strong wind or had any reports of flooding. 

To beef up the shoreline, Durocher wants to use large rocks which they can get at a quarry on the island — but it's costly. 

"The island, being a small tax base, can't afford to do the whole $8 to $10 million dollars in repairs," he said. The town has put in a request for provincial and federal money.

"The sad part is, hopefully they don't wait till we have an emergency."

Shoreline study in the works

The provincial government is working with Pelee Island to study priority areas for improvements, according to Rick Nicholls, MPP for Chatham-Kent-Leamington. 

"We have been supporting the Township of Pelee in undertaking a shoreline protection and dike risk assessment study under the National Disaster Mitigation Program," said Nicholls in a statement sent to CBC News.

"The Township has also recently been approved for $50,000 in federal funding under the National Disaster Mitigation Program for a new project to develop a shoreline protection mitigation plan."

For Durocher and the people living on Pelee Island, the call for action is getting louder. 

"What can we do? What can we do more to make the levels of government aware," he said. 

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