Fast-ris­ing lake claw­ing away at Hamil­ton shore­line

Beach is dis­ap­pear­ing, tree roots show­ing and Wa­ter­front Trail threat­ened

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - MATTHEW VAN DONGEN

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.

BARRY GRAY, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

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.

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