‘I can almost cry when I looks out the window’
Town keeping close eye on Humber River erosion, mitigation work planned for summer
DEER LAKE, NL – Jane Janes hates looking out the window of the home she has lived in all her life.
The 77-year-old resident of Pine Tree Drive has owned the land nestled beside the Humber River for the past 59 years with her husband.
“The land that lined the river was right full of trees, but now we can look right across the river, which we couldn’t do before,” said Janes.
“And it really looks really bare; I can almost cry when I looks out the window.”
The birch trees were lost as part of the erosion along the edge of her property that backs onto the Humber River.
She’s not alone. The Pine Tree Drive neighbourhood has been affected by rapid erosion since January 2018, when heavy rain followed by warm weather created floodwater and caused pack ice to flow downstream.
She believes her property is safe from further damage this spring.
“The ice is gone out of the river and I don’t think we’re going to have much damage, because if the big sheets (of ice) don’t come down, we don’t lose much land,” said Janes.
There’s no danger of homes tumbling into the Humber River - yet. Properties affected by erosion along the river are being closely monitored by residents and town staff, says Deer Lake Mayor Dean Ball.
“I don’t think there is any immediate danger to anybody’s residence,” Ball said. “There are personal properties that are affected…there are a couple woodsheds that are close.”
The town remains in frequent communications with area residents, he added.
“We’ve had a conversation with some of the residents there, and they are also watching it and keeping us in the loop. If they see something, they would notify us right away,” said Ball.
Ball said the spring run-off in April has caused some more land to erode.
“Now that the spring run-off is happening…there is some more property lost into the river with the ice break up. And we were anticipating that. Our staff is (monitoring) that on a daily basis,” said Ball.
On top of the private properties in danger, the erosion could also impact water and sewer infrastructure owned by the town.
Despite the threat to their properties, as of early April, residents of Pine Tree Drive have not left their homes.
MITIGATION EFFORTS PLANNED
The Town of Deer Lake is planning to reinforce the river bank with heavy stones to mitigate the erosion, but that plan can’t be put into effect until water levels have lowered.
“There’s going to be…some reinstatement done there this year. But unfortunately, that work can’t start until your water levels are at its lowest - that probably won’t be until late June or July sometime,” Ball said.
The rock idea, however, is not a plan supported by Janes.
“I just hope they don’t put those ugly ol’ rocks over the bank and nobody can get down to the shore,” she said. “That’s what I’m afraid of…we can always plant trees, but if they want to put them rocks there, it’s useless.”
No contracts have been awarded yet for the work, so Ball could only guess at how much it will cost to reinforce the river bank near Pine Tree Drive. He believes the price tag will be at least a million dollars. Given the high expense, the municipality has been in talks with the federal and provincial governments on funding scenarios.
“They’ve been a part of this all the way through, with the federal disaster funding as well,” said Ball.
The Deer Lake mayor pointed out, however, that there’s no guarantee the plan will solve the erosion problem entirely. With changing weather patterns and other factors, river erosion is hard to predict, even with mitigation measures in place.
“There’s nobody going to say that this will be a permanent fix,” said Ball. “It’s unfortunate; we would like to think it is, but I wouldn’t want to give anybody false hope and say this is going to be a permanent fix.”
The extent of erosion of the Humber River’s banks along Pine Tree Drive in Deer Lake.