Beach strip res­i­dents brace for more rain

Down­pour ex­pected to drench Hamil­ton area, En­vi­ron­ment Canada says

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - MATTHEW VAN DONGEN

Dar­lene Lorentz re­al­ized her base­ment crawl space was doomed when the wa­ter started at­tack­ing from above and below.

The beach strip new­comer moved into her mod­ern two-storey home a year-and-a-half ago with­out know­ing much about the sand­bar com­mu­nity’s soggy his­tory.

She learned the hard way when three pumps couldn’t keep a com­bi­na­tion of re­lent­less week­end rain and ris­ing Lake On­tario wa­ter out of her home.

“It started com­ing up through cracks in the (base­ment) floor,” she said Tues­day, watch­ing as pumps pushed the in­vad­ing wa­ter out of her home via a se­ries of hoses onto her lawn — and even­tu­ally into a grow­ing pool at the end of Bay­side Av­enue.

“Our fur­nace and our wa­ter heater are sit­ting in three inches of wa­ter. The in­sur­ance com­pany says it’s ground­wa­ter, so it’s not cov­ered … I had no clue it could get so bad.”

Long­time res­i­dents say the flooding hasn’t been this bad on the strip in decades. Lake lev­els at a 20-year high and a re­lent­less month of rain have com­bined to

leave sev­eral dozen beach strip home­own­ers bat­tling base­ment wa­ter — so far.

En­vi­ron­ment Canada is warn­ing ar­eas in south­ern On­tario, in­clud­ing Hamil­ton, could see an­other 50 mil­lime­tres or more of rain be­fore the week­end. The lake has also risen al­most 40 cen­time­tres since early April and is ex­pected to rise more in May. The city is pre­par­ing for a late-week deluge by clear­ing drains and creek out­lets, sand­bag­ging vul­ner­a­ble ar­eas that flooded dur­ing an April 20 storm and suck­ing up ex­cess wa­ter that has pooled on streets in the wa­ter­logged beach strip. The sand­bar be­tween the lake and the har­bour has a long his­tory of spo­radic flooding, with at least a few com­plaints about burned-out sump pumps or street flooding filed with the ward coun­cil­lor each spring.

But even long­time res­i­dents were caught off-guard by the ex­tent of flooding this year. Mar­garet El­liott, 80, has lived on the strip for nearly six decades. She fig­ures the wa­ter hasn’t poured into her Bay­side Av­enue base­ment this fast since the in­fa­mous 1970s storm that forced some fam­i­lies to flee flooded homes and spurred a short-lived prop­erty-buy­ing spree by the con­ser­va­tion author­ity.

Farther west on Beach Boule­vard, Gil­lian Booth was deal­ing with flooding for the first time in her 13 years liv­ing on the strip. “It’s

worth it,” said Booth, who spent the week­end wet-vac­u­um­ing sev­eral inches of wa­ter out of her un­fin­ished base­ment on the lake side of the street. “We knew the his­tory … but we ab­so­lutely love it here.”

Scott How­ley, a mem­ber of the Hamil­ton Beach Com­mu­nity Coun­cil, noted it’s hard to com­pare his­toric flooding sce­nar­ios to to­day be­cause the city built a $12mil­lion pump­ing sta­tion to give stormwa­ter re­lief to 14 of the most vul­ner­a­ble side streets in the neigh­bour­hood sev­eral years ago.

But what sticks out for the life­long res­i­dent is the num­ber of makeshift pipes pump­ing wa­ter onto lawns and the street. “Just count them. There are whole streets do­ing it,” he said.

The city has spe­cial zon­ing rules for the beach strip that for­bid new homes from be­ing built with full base­ments. But Ward 5 Coun. Chad Collins said he has vis­ited dis­traught new­com­ers to the beach neigh­bour­hood who moved into older homes and spent thou­sands fin­ish­ing — and then try­ing to pro­tect — base­ments below the level of the lake. “The only ad­vice you can give is to fill it in,” he said. “You can’t win an ar­gu­ment with Lake On­tario.”

A lot of the wa­ter be­ing pumped out of base­ments is end­ing up pool­ing on the street atop over­whelmed sewer grates. That has forced the city to con­tract vac­uum trucks to suck up the wa­ter, with some trucks out un­til mid­night Mon­day and again on Tues­day.

PHO­TOS BY JOHN RENNISON, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Mar­garet El­liott stands on bot­tom step to her base­ment where wa­ter is bub­bling up through cracks in the floor.

A sump pump hose runs onto the side­walk from a home at 5 Wood­land Ave. Neigh­bours say the hose has been run­ning since March.

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