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Homes come down

PAB Town Manager outlines the cleanup; Mayor and MHA livestream an update

Contractors removed homes destroyed by Hurricane Fiona in the Mouse Island area last Monday, Jan. 16. – © René J. Roy / Wreckhouse Press Incorporated

By Rosalyn Roy Senior Staff Reporter – with files from René J. Roy

PORT AUX BASQUES — On Thursday evening, Jan. 19, Mayor Brian Button and MHA Andrew Parsons (Burgeo – La Poile) appeared together to update residents who lost homes or had them severely damaged by Hurricane Fiona four months ago on Sept. 24, 2022. The update was not meant to be official like the one that rolled out in November 2022 to outline compensation packages. Instead it was meant more as a general update to keep affected residents in the loop as to anticipated timelines, and where they are with assessments and compensation packages. “To date, i think there’s approximately 100 assessments completed, not just in town, but the whole area. There’s many more left to be done,” said Town Manager Leon MacIsaac earlier that day. “Some people have received letters advising what their compensation will be, and they’re hoping to get more out in the near future as well.” According to Parsons, the second round of compensation packages is expected to roll out by the end of this month. “There are seven adjusters. At this point, there have been 142 applications sent to adjusters and more are advanced regularly as the information comes in. The majority of homes considered a total loss have been visited by adjuster and contractor. There have been a number of assessments on homes requiring repairs only,” said Parsons. Once the contractor outlines the replacement cost, that information is forwarded to the system and becomes part of the report that, once complete, gets forwarded to the province to build the compensation package. Parsons thinks it’s going well considering it has been only four months. “We said back in November we would expedite as quickly as possible. We get completed assessments weekly. They get looked at by DFAA (Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements) staff.” After that, homeowners get a scheduled appointment to review the package. Those with repair only claims get contacted as well to discuss options. “December 15th there were 15 property owners provided with financial information on their property. We’re expecting the next load of packages to be delivered the week of January 30th. People don’t need to call in for that. You will be contacted to set up an appointment,” stressed Parsons. Homeowners are then given sufficient time to study the compensation offer and seek legal advice. “Basically the time frame is about three to four weeks, once signed, to issue funding,” said Parsons. Meanwhile the province is still working on assessing the high-impact areas. In November, the province stated that it would be offering packages for those homes also. Determining the physical boundaries for that high-impact zone remains a work in progress. “That work is ongoing. We committed to the spring. We are still committed to the spring,” said Parsons. “It requires a huge assessment in the highest impact area, involving multiple government departments, the completion and full analysis, and then it will go to decision making.” Naturally some residents are well aware that they are more than likely within the high-impact zone, as is Parsons, but nothing has been decided yet one way or another just because of the amount of work involved. “Number one, it’s collaborative, which means it’s multiple communities, multiple departments. You know, a lot of people working together to figure this out. It’s a big decision. In the meantime, we do have the temporary accommodation program for people that feel unsafe during extreme weather. And the last thing I would say is that I understand the anxiety that it is causing, that it causes. I get that completely.” Parsons also promised that the province continues to prioritize Fiona recovery efforts. “The sheer number of people involved in Fiona relief, from multiple other departments, means that there are other files that probably aren’t getting the attention they should,” said Parsons. “Not for this region, for the province.” While not every problem has been fixed, Parsons said the vast majority have been identified and work is ongoing. There are additional considerations besides the homes and high-impact flood zone, including loss of slipways and sheds that weren’t on private property, wharves, fishing stages and basic infrastructure around towns and local service districts. Those answers will take a bit longer to come too. “We are troubleshooting those, working on different solutions, but that also requires that we work with the federal DFAA and ACOA,” said Parsons. It was through ACOA that funds were allocated to hire Edwina Bateman as an independent contractor to oversee Fiona donations. “The long and short of that is that a lot of money has been donated from across this country and beyond, and we want to make sure of responsible allocation of those funds, and that it goes where it’s needed,” said Parsons, who anticipates that information will be publicly disclosed. “I would imagine it will be, is my guess. To me, the minute that you don’t identify where money is spent, to the most feasible limit, then you’re only asking for trouble.” Work to repair infrastructure will continue in the spring, but it has already started. “We’ve provided over a million dollars to help municipal sewer outfalls in Port aux Basques,” said Parsons. There is also an urgent need to expedite repairs to salvageable residences, and work is ongoing with contractors to help facilitate the return of people to their homes as soon as possible. Most displaced families have found new accommodations, but there are a few still living at the hotels. “For those who are in temporary accommodations, funding will not end March 31st. This will continue until we’re able to find permanent arrangements, but is at such a number that we are working case by case with people.” The deadline for a DFAA applications is January 31, 2023. “If you have not got that done, get it done,” said Parsons. While the Red Cross programs are finished, if there is an outstanding issue, residents can contact the Hurricane Fiona co-ordinator. MacIsaac said the demolitions of complete loss houses is ongoing for those who have finalized their compensation packages. “There’s been two demolition packages put out so far, encompassing five homes on Clement Crescent and Forsey’s Lane. And another seven or eight up on Regional Street area. They’ll soon be making a decision on the next schedule of homes to be demolished, because they are done in a Phase 1, Phase 2 category. Phase 1 is the most significantly impacted versus ones that are mildly impacted, but still got to be removed at a future date. So they’re working towards getting the most seriously damaged homes down at the moment. And really, we don’t know who is on the demolition package until they are provided to us. The province is handling that.” Once the province gives the town the demolition package, the homes are scheduled to come down. “Now, some of those homes didn’t receive their response back on assessment, even though they signed off on their demolition order. So once you sign your demolition order, the house is theoretically permissible to be demolished, because the Town has the power to enact that as well,” said MacIsaac. “Now, people may be concerned that they haven’t received it yet, but it has been made public that the Province announced they would provide you a minimum of $200 per square foot for your home, and they will provide you with a building lot to put a home on should you wish to rebuild, or the value of. So that knowledge is there, so they should be able to do a quick calculation of what they should expect. I’m not sure if its 200 for every floor in your home, if you had three floors fully developed. But I would expect anybody who had a 1,200 square foot home, would get 200 a square foot, and with a building lot, you should be able to build back similar to what you had before or better. More times it’d be much better than you had, right?” Now that demolition has begun, there is a staggering amount of debris being blown around, but MacIsaac said the town does not have any environmental worries surrounding the process. “We have no concerns right now. It would be environmental damage if there’s asbestos, or lead paint in the buildings. We don’t believe there is. Anything that’s being noted has to be reported to service representatives in the area to go up and review. And with the high winds and that, they’ve got a time slot to get them taken down, so they’re trying to control the debris as much as they can, and still get them down in the amount of time allotted. And we also know, we’ll give them some leniency for bad weather. Regional Street has had bad weather, high winds to deal with as well.” There are kitchen appliances, hot water heaters and similar large items yet to be carried away. “There is a group going around doing the coastal cleanups. I haven’t seen them there this week. They’re working with DFO to help clean up the coastlines and areas. It’s going to be an ongoing process, because every time there’s a storm there’s new debris. Then, of course, you get people dumping stuff and you have to go back and clean that up too. So while they are doing demolition, they also have Requests for Proposals out for consulting services. One is to deal with immediate housing needs, which is viewing what’s immediately available, what can be produced into accommodations for people. There’s another RFP out for land development to expand our subdivision up on Dennis’ Hill area.” Choices for new lots are limited, even in Port aux Basques. “There’s not really a whole lot of other developed land that doesn’t have a huge amount of rock. That’s the most easily developed. We have to actually own it to develop it. If not, it’s Crown land and there has to be an inquiry in order to develop it. And it has to be zoned for it as well. We’re no different than anywhere else. Even though Fiona happened, we can’t go put in residential development that hasn’t been zoned for it. We can’t wait for that process, so we’re concentrating on developing what is zoned for that right now. There’s very limited quantities around town. Crown land is not easily accessible, it would be extremely difficult to service and that’s not an avenue we’re currently looking at,” explained MacIsaac.


Railed supports once buried by sand dunes at J. T. Cheeseman beach are fully exposed following Hurricane Fiona. The sand now covers the parking lot (right). – File photo

Meanwhile, there another unpleasant factor to the demolition, and that’s the smell coming from the damaged outfalls. “That’s the raw sewer. There are a number of outfall projects out. One closes on Tuesday (Jan. 24). That’s for the Cox Avenue outfalls, the outfalls with the large number of homes and commercial properties on it. So that closes on Tuesday, and hopefully that’ll get screened and contract awarded in very short order. There’s five other projects for that as well, which is Water Street East, up on Mouse Island, and other areas which received quite a bit of damage as well. So they should be out hopefully by the end of next week all those tenders issued. There’s armour stone reinforcement for Water Street East that’s being placed, and that’s been awarded to consultants. Consultants should have that completed in the next week or two as well. And a lot of these projects are going to be weather-dependent as well. We have good weather now, but if bad weather sets in through winter, it’s going to slow down the ability to get those jobs completed.” Heavy rains continue to contribute to flooding in specific areas throughout town, most noticeably Andy’s Rainbow Park. The park was completely underwater during Fiona, floating boats that had been landed for the winter, and it flooded again during the next big rainstorm. “We’re trying to get enough material in so we can raise the level of the waters edge so we can keep that from flooding again. But if you raise the outer barrier, the outfall pipes are still going to overflow. Rising sea level is going to be a hard thing to deal with over the coming years. We know it every time we get tide warnings well above normal levels. And there’s going to be a lot of work done in the coming years to figure out how we are going to bypass all that,” admitted MacIsaac. The significant damage to the popular Grand Bay West Trail system is also on the Town’s To Do list. The wooden boardwalk at the beach entrance that connects to the gravel trail has been completely torn down, and there are sections of the trail along the shoreline that became hazardous if not impassible following Fiona. “Consultant services for that has been issued and it has been closed. Three proposals were received and the committee will make a recommendation on who they have chosen to award that project to. The one for the regional trail system has already been awarded, so the other one is Grand Bay West Trail system, to go back and see what can be done to reinstate it. It won’t necessarily go back where it was previously, so we’ve asked them to look at what they can do and where it should be re-aligned to, if necessary,” said MacIsaac. While the high tide continues to come in as far as the sheds adjacent to the parking, the beach sand has blown in even further. “We will be cleaning up the parking lot come the Spring. All the sand that’s pushed in overland, obviously we can’t touch that, that’s a protected area. So whatever the storm has created, unless its on the parking lot, we don’t have the capability unless the province gives us some idea that we’re able to. We went out in machines to remove the structures that were damaged, but to go out and start moving sand dunes and stuff like that to make modifications is something we’re not likely going to be able to touch,” said MacIsaac. That means the beach will likely remain as it is now. “To go and say we’re going to go and re-instate it, I would say no. Same as up Cheeseman’s Beach (J. T. Cheeseman Provincial Park). All of those posts that are sticking up that were submerged? They’re not going to go back and start digging up there. I don’t think the Department of the Environment is going to permit us to go and start excavating large sections of the beach. I’d be highly doubtful.”

A statement from the province forwarded by Minister Parsons over the weekend gave the following update for individuals and families impacted by Fiona:

“Government recognizes that this is a frustrating time for all those involved. Work has progressed on the assessment of the damage to properties as a result of Hurricane Fiona. Significant progress has been made in terms of adjuster and contractor site visits. There are seven adjusters involved in this process. At this point, 142 applications have been sent to the adjusters and more are advanced regularly as updated information is received. To date, the majority of homes considered a total loss have been visited by an adjuster and contractor; assessments have also been completed on many homes that require repairs only. 

“This is a very detailed and extensive process and every resource available is working diligently on this response effort and will continue to do so until it is concluded. On December 16, the Department of Justice and Public Safety officials provided 15 property owners with financial information regarding their property. It is expected additional packages will be delivered during the week of January 30. Property owners will be contacted to set up an appointment. 

“As compensation packages are finalized and delivered over the coming months, residents will be given sufficient time to review and obtain legal advice, if they so choose. Once all documents are signed by the property owner, it will take approximately 3-4 weeks to issue funding. 

“Government officials meet weekly with a group of officials and elected officials from the various communities, to provide an opportunity to raise any outstanding issues. We continue to assist in troubleshooting issues as communities work through their rebuild options. Assessment and analysis is ongoing to identify possible solutions, but it requires many other parties. We are facilitating with various groups, including the Federal Government through Public Safety Canada (Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements) and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), and having discussions on options that communities may be able to avail of.

“There is a temporary accommodations program for anyone who may not feel safe during times of expected extreme weather conditions. 

“For displaced property owners who are in temporary accommodations, funding being provided by the Provincial Government will not end on March 31, 2023, but will continue until displaced property owners are able to find permanent arrangements. A reminder that the deadline to submit the DFAA applications is January 31, 2023. While the Canadian Red Cross programs have concluded, and registration is closed, if anyone still has an outstanding issue, they can contact the Fiona Response Coordinator at 709-695-9871 or email FionaResponse@gov.nl.ca. “

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