Erie Shore Drive to close until further notice

Erie Shore Drive. May 2017. (File photo courtesy of the Municipality of Chatham-Kent)

A group of residents who live along Erie Shore Drive in Chatham-Kent are threatening legal action in response to a council decision that is forcing them to abandon their homes.

Emotions were high on Monday as Erie Shore Drive residents packed into council chambers to watch as councillors unanimously voted in favour of a bylaw that would close the road as of March 9.

The decision comes after a state of emergency was declared Friday afternoon for Erie Shore Drive and low laying sections of Erieau Road.  The state of emergency and a voluntary evacuation was issued after municipal administration revealed that there was a five to 40 per cent chance that the Erie Shore Drive dike could fail, resulting in catastrophic flooding.

The road will be closed from 18416 Erie Shore Dr. to the intersection of Erie Shore Drive and Erieau Road. The closure will allow crews to begin work to prevent a dike breach and mitigate the risk of harm to property and people. The closure will also restrict emergency vehicles from accessing the road.

Once the road is closed it also means residents will be unable to access their homes. Administration has previously acknowledged that some homeowners may not be able to return to their residences this year, as a result of the required construction.

A total of 123 homes are located along Erie Shore Drive dike and approximately 43 are home to permanent residents.

Prior to council’s Monday meeting, Erie Shore Drive resident Terra Cadeau read a letter that had been written by a legal representative, on behalf of the Erie Shore Drive Property Owners’ Association (ESDPOA).  The letter served as notice to council that ESDPOA may consider legal action to claim damages to their properties that are a result of the road closure.

Cadeau said now that the bylaw has been approved, the residents will need to discuss the next steps.

“I think we need to digest the final bylaw that was passed before we can really assess that,” she said.

Stephanie Robinson was one of the 15 Erie Shore Drive residents who spoke to council before the decision was made. With tears in her eyes, Robinson detailed how the closure of the road would leave her and her young son in a tough spot.

“I am a single mother of an eight-year-old boy,” she said. “We just recently purchased our home on Erie Shore Drive… We are moving to this address from St. Thomas to start our life over in Chatham-Kent… Now, we are going to lose our home. What am my son and I going to do?”

Many residents, including Cadeau, said they worry about what the lack of emergency vehicles allowed on the road would mean for their home insurance and mortgage.

“What we were trying to do was put forth an alternative solution that would allow emergency vehicles to get down the road which would not impact homeowner’s insurance,” she explained. “If we lose our insurance it’s very likely that our mortgages will be recalled.”

The complete shutdown of Erie Shore Drive will allow for improvements to be made to the embankment grade to prevent uncontrolled overtopping. As well, the concrete blocks that are currently in place at the south edge of the roadway will be moved from addresses 17982 to 18416. Administration told council that these measures need to be completed as soon as possible, and they will take six to eight weeks to implement at a cost of around $450,000.

The motion passed on Monday does not indicate an anticipated reopening date for Erie Shore Drive, but states administration will return to council within eight weeks with recommendations from infrastructure and engineering services.  The report will include options for council to weigh such as preparing alternative access to Erie Shore Drive via a nearby constructed road, buying out property owners affected by the road closure, and introducing a further permanent closure of the road.

The motion also asks administration to advise the provincial government of the “hardship being endured by the impacted residents” and take all necessary steps to have the province partner with the people of Chatham-Kent and consider a financial contribution. A report outlining the steps taken and proposed next steps will be brought back to council.

In addition, the motion requests that administration work with the ESDPOA to promote a dialogue and identify a plan for how homeowners can best protect their personal property.

“I acknowledge that Chatham-Kent made some modifications to the proposed bylaw to be more collaborative to talk about working with the properties owner association. They acknowledged the consider of buy-outs. So those things I am very appreciative of,” said Cadeau

Although many residents criticized the lack of time given to them to leave their homes behind, General Manager of Infrastructure and Engineering Services Thomas Kelly stressed the sense of urgency.

“It’s key for everybody to understand, it’s the structural integrity of the dike and its also the conditions that are out there right now and the potential forecast,” he explained.

Should a major breach of the dike occur, staff said that it would a maximum of six to eight hours for area roads to flood and prevent access to the Village of Erieau, effectively turning it into an island.

Many councillors thanked the residents of Erie Shore Drive for speaking and expressed sympathy for their situation. However, several said it all came down to safety concerns.

“It’s safety. It’s the safety of people,” said Councillor Carmen McGregor. “I know it’s hard and it’s people’s life earnings and everything else but safety has to be the number one concern when we’re making our decisions around this table within our community, no matter how hard it is.”

The municipality has set up several resources for residents impacted by the situation. Those who need accommodations are encouraged to contact the Chatham-Kent Homeless Response Line at 519-354-6628.  Pet and Wildlife Rescue (PAWR) will also be assisting any residents who require emergency assistance with pet/animal care. PAWR can be reached at 226-996-9969 or 519-784-6146 after-hours.

Public information sessions will also be held on Tuesday at the Erieau Firehall to provide one-on-one question opportunities for residents. The first session will be held from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. and another will be held from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

-With files from Kirk Dickinson