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Winter a hard test for damaged infrastructure

By Jaymie White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter – with files from René J. Roy

PORT AUX BASQUES — The damage to residential properties caused by Hurricane Fiona was unprecedented, but the storm also took a heavy toll on existing and aging infrastructure. Mayor Brian Button said that infrastructure within Port aux Basques is quite extensive.

“It’s a large number when it comes to infrastructure build back,” said Button. “When it comes to the infrastructure damage, we have multiple things that are related to that as well. We have issues when it comes to the municipal side of the infrastructure, and we also have the residential side where people have had their own residential sewage disposal not tied into the municipal septic system.”

There remains a significant amount of repair or replacement, as many as 70 according to the mayor.

“We’ve got about eight to ten sewer outfalls and those type of things that are going to need major repairs, major rebuilds. We’ve got another eight to ten that are probably going to need minimum repairs. They are going to need repairs, but not to the extent of the other ones, which will probably almost need a full rebuild. We’re also dealing with another 30 to 40 private lines that we’re either trying to see if we can tie it into municipal infrastructure or to see what we will be able to do with that for the winter season.”

The majority of the evaluations have been completed.

“We’ve been working with the immediate response team and ourselves, and we’ve been trying to identify it all. We’ve had everything, including divers out in the water. There are still a couple of areas where we may have to camera, a couple more things just to be sure, but now we’ve had our consultants, who are also in the process of doing the engineering work to show (what’s needed) for the rebuild of the infrastructure. Some of that is already going out to tender to get that work done,” said Button. “In some cases, it’s going to be a temporary fix, with the long-term fix being engineered and looked at to see what we are going to do with certain types of systems. We have to have it so it meets government regulations, but we have to get through this winter season.”

Button said some of the work is being completed as they go, knowing that winter is fast approaching.

“We’ve been trying to work some of them as we’ve been going along with the road repair, trying to fix the roads that were damaged, doing those as we make our way around.”

Work has continued on the more damaged roads, including Regional Street and Lakeshore Drive, but the weather is always a factor when it comes to making steady progress.

“That’s come along fairly well,” said Button. “Most everything is being done, like on a temporary measure there now, to get through (the winter).”

The storm surge undermined roadways from the sides and tore away pavement or left it dangling precariously, entirely unsafe for vehicles or even pedestrians. Crews have had to close roads to dig up damaged culverts and install new ones, including down on Water Street East and Clement Crescent, where many of the homes were lost.

“The province has been doing that under the transportation piece that we’ve had, that’s been working with us on that, to get that done, along with the Grand Bay West bridge.”

The bridge has been closed to vehicle traffic since Hurricane Fiona made landfall in the town in the early morning hours of Sept. 24. Last Thursday, Button was hopeful that repairs would be completed in time for the weekend, but once again the forecast wasn’t promising.

The mayor did note that the armour stone the town had laid down to protect the bridge from storm surge like the one brought by Fiona did its job.

“It protected it, but the armour stone itself was all taken away,” said Button. “The bridge itself and the abutments were okay. Nothing got damaged on that. The roadways on either side, they were undermined.”

The total cost of the repairs to the town and the rest of the region is still unknown, but it will likely be significant.

“At this point, once we put it out for costing on getting the work done, we will get a better handle on it, but some of the repairs that are there right now, the total cost on it is something I don’t have an exact number on,” admitted Button.

There is funding already earmarked to help pay the bills once they come due.

“A lot of this will be under the disaster funding arrangement,” said Button. “We have some major infrastructure damage that takes care of quite a number of households and areas in the community. This is being done through the province and we have both the province’s departments and engineers that are working with us, along with the consultants, to get things done.”

Two weekends ago, even more damage was discovered as a result of the extensive rainfall that resulted in some flooding, including near Big Bridge in East End.

“We identified a few more areas that popped up the weekend with the rain and some more work that we’ve had to do with some of our lift stations. That weekend was probably the first weekend we’ve had major weather since Fiona. We’ve had on and off weather, but the weekend we had record rainfall amounts here in Port aux Basques on the Saturday and on the Monday we had 100-plus kilometres of wind in town. That exposed a few more areas we were unaware of. We had backups and flooding problems, which added to our already huge list.”

Button said it is important for people to be proactive and take the necessary steps when sewers back up, something that happened during the heavy rains.

“Anytime any of this happens, even with Fiona, the first response is people have to contact their insurance company first. From there, from what comes out of that, we then move to investigate it through a means of whether it is a Fiona-related thing under the disaster fund or not,” explained Button. “This turned out to be some people, where they escaped Fiona, but a month later they had problems like this that were probably related to Fiona, where they didn’t have problems in the beginning.”

Button said it is hard, since the town is still dealing with the aftermath of Fiona, to have even more problems unfold.

“It just made some more issues for some more people. Our crews haven’t been able to get a break and we’re getting ready to move into winter season, snow clearing season. This time of the year is when we are trying to get the town ready for winter and we are usually busy enough as it is,” said Button. “This has been outrageous over the last little while, but we have a great team on the ground who are here working and it’s helping us as well to be able to expedite some of this and get it done, so we are fortunate that way.”

Severe winter weather, which is not unusual for the region, could result in even more headaches for municipalities and local service districts in the region. Button is hoping to avoid that scenario for as long as possible.

“I hope there’s no more damage. Knowing how winter storms go, that’s why we are trying to work as quickly as we can to try to get some things done before we get into the heart of winter. Mother Nature can give us a bit of a break going forward here, for the next month or so, before we start getting major snowfalls. We might be able to, at least, get some protection over the areas that we need to do. There’s a fair bit of work to do and, as I keep saying, time is not on our side,” said Button. “From the beginning of this the focus has been on trying to get the residential piece done and try to evaluate all the damages we had when it comes to the infrastructure damage around the community, and that has taken a while to compile it all, investigate all the areas, check them out. It’s been a nightmare when it comes to that stuff. You have to have it functional and winterized for the winter as best we can. I’m hopeful we’re not going to get any more damage, but only time will tell on that. It’ll be determined by what Mother Nature decides to throw at us.”

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