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Along Fundy shore, property sliding into the bay. One farmer says 30 to 40 metres of his farmland has been lost in last several decades.
Note: Sea levels are rising at a pace unparalleled in modern times and storms are becoming more intense as a result of global warming. This story is part of a weeklong series examining our rising oceans, the impact on our region and what government, scientists and others are doing to track change and mitigate damage.
The Bay of Fundy is a subtle but prolific property thief.
Rod Densmore of Noel Shore hasn’t really caught the bay in the act but he can testify to its persistent activity.
“I can remember the fields, a hill toward the water and when you got to the bottom of the hill, the land used to level out but it doesn’t anymore,” Densmore said of the farm property on the north side of Highway 215 where he has lived for all of his 76 years.
“You are coming uphill at the edge of the bank now.”
Densmore says some 30 to 40 metres of farmland have disappeared over the years.
“At one point, it was kind of like a semicircle,” he said. “It didn’t roll down the bank, it just kind of slid down and settled. I had my ground plowed and I just took my head ridge probably 30 feet in and 100 feet across. It just slid down and sort of washed away.”
The Densmore property now ends with a six-metre drop down an embankment to the bay. At normal high tide, the relentless Fundy munches steadily on the soil up to nearly a quarter of the height of the embankment. In storm surges, its voracity intensifies.
Densmore said farms all along the shore have surrendered land to the bay.
“Nothing was ever done to hold it back,” he said.
With sea levels in the province expected to rise by about .45 metres by 2055 and by a metre by 2100, it’s time to do something.
“People want more information, they are wondering if there are any plans for them to actually start adapting to the changes they are already seeing, knowing that there are going to be more to come,” said Brittany MacIsaac, who in her role with the Ecology Action Centre has being doing a series of public workshops on sea level rise across the province.
For the most part, it’s up to government to glean and circulate vital sea level information.
“It’s a major factor in Nova Scotia,” said Environment Minister Margaret Miller, who recently returned to the department from Natural Resources. “People who were denying climate change and were denying that we would have erosion were burying their heads in the sand.”
Jason Hollett, executive director of the climate change team with the Environment Department, said the province is doing a lot to prepare for the impacts that come with that change.
“Nova Scotians have a lot to be proud of in terms of our greenhouse gas emission reduction over the last couple of years but no matter what we do, we know a lot of this change is sort of locked in over the next 100 years or so,” Hollet said. “A lot of what we’re doing is creating or helping communities or affected organizations have access to or create the information that they need in order to plan for the impacts. For example, we work closely with the town of Yarmouth, Lunenburg, a few other coastal communities around the province to do some detailed sea level rise and storm surge mapping so that they can identify critical infrastructure or future impacts from climate change.”
Hollett said Municipal Affairs did a groundbreaking program with the province’s 51 municipalities a couple of years back, requiring municipalities to create climate change action plans.
“It’s a detalied analysis of what impacts they foresee and the issues and opportunities for their municipalities.”
Hollett said that one-of-a-kind municipal analysis in Canada allowed the provincial department to focus on “common issues that folks are dealing with in terms of climate change — sea level rise, storm surges, extreme weather events.”
But all municipalities have not been created equally, especially not in a province that boasts 8,000 kilometres of coastline, jumping to 13,000 kilometres when the land around harbours, coves, inlets and tidal estuaries are included.
“It shouldn’t be municipality against municipality, it should be one set of rules for the whole province,” said Carolyn Bolivar-Getson, mayor of the Municipality of the District of Lunenburg and its 25,000 people.
By contrast, Halifax Regional Municipality is home to more than 430,00 people and it is guided by a comprehensive municipal planning strategy from 2014.
“We have a policy that effectively says we will establish a vertical buffer along coastal areas and every coastal land-use bylaw within the municipality will be updated to reflect this new vertical (buffer) ... essentially for storm surge protection,” said Alex MacDonald, a climate change specialist with the city’s energy and environment department.
The buffer is 2.5 metres above the ordinary high water mark.
The Muncipality of Lunenburg has no bylaw regulations about building proximity to the coast but it is working on mapping its inland flood plains to prepare for storm surges. Bolivar-Getson looks forward to uniform buffer zone regulations for new buildings that will be part of provincial coastal protection legislation to be drafted and passed later this year or in 2019.
“We don’t want to continue to pay for bad decisions,” Bolivar-Getson said. “We need to make sure that there are rules and regulations that help protect the taxpayer and protect our residents from losing their valuable property.”
Still, Hollett said the onus will be on municipalities to produce their own climate change adaptation plans.
“Everyone is going to be dealing with similar impacts but in their own context,” Hollett said. “You could be a town like Lockeport that’s an island, connected to the mainland by a beach. You could be HRM, which is roughly the same size as P.E.I. and goes from urban to extremely rural. Everyone is different in their context and everyone is different in their capacity.
“That’s an important thing for anything we do in the province, to recognize the differences that we have here.”