High water won’t drown Pier 8 plan
Waterfront tower designs will consider all scenarios
A swelling Lake Ontario is approaching 100-year hazard levels that would leave parts of Hamilton’s planned $500-million pier redevelopment prone to flooding.
But environmental and development experts say even today’s record lake levels — the highest in a century — would not endanger the condos or townhomes built atop a graded pier after 2018. Flooding is on the minds of Hamiltonians, particularly those living near the water, with large sections of the harbourfront trail submerged this spring and dozens of low-lying beach strip basements filling with creeping lake water.
Council is poised to sign off next week on a draft plan of subdivision for a 1,500-unit condo development on Pier 8, despite concerns raised by some
residents and businesses about odour and noise from the industrial waterfront. Some residents have also contacted The Spectator to ask about flooding risk.
The city’s decade-old plan to revamp the west harbour has always acknowledged the need to improve aging infrastructure, shore walls and breakwaters, said waterfront project point person Chris Phillips. That work is already underway.
“But the reality is we aren’t the only community building on the waterfront and we’re absolutely building to meet the latest design standards needed for the site,” he said. “This year’s high water levels have no bearing on our ability to meet those guidelines.”
The city’s own consultant, Shoreplan Engineering, produced a report on the proposed development calling the prospect for “wave overtopping” of the pier walls at record storm levels “significant, but manageable.”
The Hamilton Conservation Authority also supports the redevelopment, noting the draft plan of subdivision shows buildings at a grade well above the 100-year flood hazard level of 76 metres (as of this week, the lake level had reached 75.8 metres) and higher still than the additional expected height of “wave uprush” during a major storm.
Those numbers reflect historical lake level trends. The city’s own west harbour study acknowledges climate change must be factored into future building decisions on the water, but it also notes a “general consensus” Lake Ontario levels will drop in future.
The regulatory agency does call, however, for future technical studies and more details on how a developer will protect “open space” areas of the pier more prone to flooding. It recommends as well more study of flood protection on low-lying Pier 6, the current marine unit area.
At the moment, the marine unit building is starting to look like an island, with water lapping at the building walls and vehicles parked in a partially submerged driveway.
Police spokesperson Const. Asuf Khokhar said the facility is “at the mercy of mother nature,” but still usable. “We are having some ballast put into place to prevent damage to the boats, and continue to monitor the situation closely,” he said Thursday.
Some day, that semisubmerged marine unit area is supposed to form part of an artisanal village on the water to serve a hoped-for Pier 8 population of thousands. The building and parts of the police marine pier date back more than 50 years and are no longer up to standard, Phillips said.
That’s just one of the reasons the city embarked on a $16-million shoreline revamp that started last year and will continue throughout 2017. The more robust, rocky shoreline and new boardwalk are already on display along parts of Pier 7.
So is a new $5-million floating breakwater designed to take the stormy edge off wave action near the busy marina west of Pier 8.
Any buildings eventually constructed on Pier 8 — which is largely composed of steel, concrete and fill — will need to be built on pilings driven down to bedrock beneath the water. Underground parking will also be unlikely — unless a developer wanted to spend big on the complex engineering required to waterproof a garage below the water table.
The city will have to sign off on the final site plan before anything new is built on the pier, which already hosts the Waterfront Trust’s Discovery Centre, restaurants and rink. The city is seeking requests for qualifications from developers for the pier now, with hopes of seeing shovels in the ground for a first round of development in 2018.