Fast-rising lake clawing away at Hamilton shoreline
Beach is disappearing, tree roots showing and Waterfront Trail threatened
A swelling Lake Ontario is chomping bigger bites out Hamilton’s shoreline this year.
Cyclists and dog-walkers alike slowed Monday to peer down the new bluff created by surging waves gnawing at the shoreline east of Barangas on the Beach.
More pieces of turf appear ready to drop off the edge just three paces from the edge of the paved Waterfront Trail, while still-leafy trees now sprawl in the lake with newly bared roots jutting up in the air.
The damage is not always so dramatic — but locals are increasingly seeing signs of erosion “in fast-forward mode” up-and-down the lakeshore, said longtime beach strip resident Jim Howlett.
“There’s undercutting of the bank, of the dunes, all along the trail,” said Howlett, a member of the neighbourhood community council. “We’re seeing tonnes of sand washed away … You have to wonder if we’ll get to the point of losing a portion of the trail.”
Erosion is a bigger problem this year on the lake thanks to the highest water levels seen since the early 1990s combined with a record spate of relentless rain and occasional east winds thrashing waves against the Hamilton shoreline.
The city was already repairing drowned and crumbled sections of the recreational trail ringing Hamilton harbour in April. (Recent rains also contributed to the closure of York Road in Dundas because of swelling creek waters undermining a culvert.)
Watershed planning director Scott Peck said erosion is particularly noticeable along the stretch of Confederation Park the Hamilton Conservation Authority manages for the city.
The regulatory agency is also hearing reports from homeowners in Stoney Creek and Winona wanting permission to fix “failing” shoreline protection walls. (Significant erosion of some lakefront Stoney Creek properties has been a recognized problem even without high lake levels in the past few years.)
Along the Winona lakeshore, Lee-Ann Lemay watched in disbelief last week as storm-surge waves overtopped her metal-and-concrete break wall and washed away topsoil in her backyard.
“We’ve never seen the water so high,” said Lemay, who has lived within spitting distance of the lake since 2001.
“Our wall is in good shape and our house is up high, so we should be fine. Some of the neighbours are worried about losing land, though.”
Coun. Chad Collins said he is fielding calls from beach strip residents about the lake “eating away” at painstakingly planted grassy dunes along the sandbar separating the lake from the bay.
Others have expressed fears about what the high lake levels and stormy weather mean for the 50-metre-tall hydro transmission towers that follow the shoreline — some with feet sitting in increasingly high water. You can cross that concern off your list, anyway.
Hydro One checked out the towers after the 86-mm, two-day deluge ended Friday and didn’t find any problems, said spokesperson Nancy Clark Monday. “The transmission towers are designed and built for the beach condition.”
Howlett also worries Hydro One’s decision to cut thousands of trees and scrub bushes along the hydro corridor last year came “at the exact wrong time.”
“Those tree roots were like rebar for our sand dunes. A lot of us residents kind of depend on that sand staying put, you know?” he said, noting the beach trail represents the high point in an otherwise low-lying and flood-prone residential strip.
Collins conceded its “frustrating” for residents and environmental groups who have teamed up in recent years to plant protective grasses and other plants along the beach strip, specifically to fight erosion. A planned planting expedition was axed last weekend because of the rain.
The city hired a consultant to examine erosion protection options last year along the beach strip, with the main suggestions including a monitoring program and adding a stone blockade in a short section near the lift bridge.
Collins said he would consider updating that study if lake levels are projected to stay high.
“Erosion is a natural part of life on the lakeshore,” he said. “But I don’t think there’s any doubt the high (lake) levels and some of these storm events are combining to speed up the losses we’re seeing in some areas.”
We’ve never seen the water so high. LEEANN LEMAY HOMEOWNER ALONG WINONA LAKESHORE
Roots of trees along the Waterfront Trail on the Hamilton beach strip following erosion from recent high water.
City crews continue work on York Road in Dundas, closed since last week due to heavy rains. Crews excavated to examine a drainage culvert to make sure water continues to flow properly.