Wall of opposition over Souris sea barrier

Steve Sharratt comment@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on March 13, 2016

Eenvironmentalist insists project to protect causeway will turn beach into sacrificial lamb.

SOURIS – Fred Cheverie looks over the damaged sand dunes in this eastern port town and sees a wall of opposition growing over a proposed barrier to hold back the sea.

The highway is barely a metre above sea level and the local environmentalist insists a planned project to protect the road will turn the beach into a sacrificial lamb.

“It’s going to be a complete eyesore,’’ says Cheverie, a director with the Souris and Area Wildlife Federation.

“The plan the government is presenting has everything to do with protecting the road and nothing to do with protecting the beach. As far as I’m concerned they should raise the road.”

The government plans to spend about $300,000 this summer to protect the highway into town that is surrounded by water on both sides. The rising sea levels and tidal surges did considerable damage to the dune system during the past two years and Route 2 is practically exposed. Government intends to build a three metre rampart wall between the dune system and the pavement with hopes of staving off further damage.

“The province wants to save the road, but I’m suggesting let’s save the beach at the same time,’’ says local MLA and fire chief Colin Lavie. “This is not just any beach, this is a tourism beach and if you build a wall behind the dune…the beach is in jeopardy.”

The Souris beach is the welcome mat to the town offering a sweeping view of sand for those arriving by vehicle of those sailing into Colville Bay aboard the Isle de Madeleine ferry.

A similar wall was built a few years ago to help protect the east side of the beachfront which is now part of the tourism centre and boardwalk. But the beach is also home to piping plovers.

“We consider this beach on this spit to be critical piping plover habitat,’’ confirms Megan Harris, executive director of the Island Nature Trust. “In an ideal world, infrastructure would not be built on sand dunes.”

The plovers have failed to visit the past two years – since a new bridge was under construction – but Harris tends to agree with raising the road rather than building a 225 metre wall to protect it. Raising the road wasn’t included as an option during a public meeting two weeks ago, but the new bridge was built two metres higher because of the concern over sea level rise.

Transportation spokesman Darrell Evans says the proposed wall is designed to protect the department's asset; Route 2 into the Town of Souris, and then focus on a dune restoration process during phase two of the project.

“If the wall were to be placed along the water's edge, then the dunes will absolutely be destroyed,” he insists.

Evans said other solutions like concrete or armour stone would be more disruptive to the dune system than the wooden bastion Langley wall being proposed.

The proposed Langley wall built behind the dune and close to the road may not be the best, but Harris acknowledges it would have the last impact on the environment.

Cheverie and Lavie want the government to reconsider the plan for a rampart wall along much of the Souris beachfront and, like the bridge, raise the road and armour it with island sandstone.

“If the road is not raised…..well just wait to see what happens when a spring tidal surge and a southeast wind come calling and head straight to the road.”