Province has taken little action to reduce the risk of erosion says AG

Talbot Trail erosion near Dealtown. March 4, 2020. (Photo by Paul Pedro)

The Ministry of Resources and Forestry (MNRF) is coming under fire for not taking steps to proactively reduce the risks of erosion in areas susceptible to it, such as Chatham-Kent.

Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk pointed out in her annual report this week that the Ministry has not identified land exposed to erosion risk and is doing little to address the elephant in the room, particularly around Lake Erie where significant coastal erosion and wave action are problematic for landowners.

“Shoreline protection structures have been erected in some areas, however this is largely a reactive measure that is not expected to address the problem in the long-term,” wrote Lysyk. “We also noted that there are no provincial hazard maps for shore line erosion. The Ministry told us it had no plans to provide education and awareness programs targeted at local residents, homeowners and real estate agents, or to undertake property buy-back programs for existing at-risk properties.”

A Special Advisor’s Report on the 2019 flood events pointed out that shoreline protection structures, such as stone break walls have been erected in some areas along the Lake Erie shoreline to slow erosion rates. However, these structures do not stop erosion of the lake bottom in front of the structures, which results in a deeper nearshore, lake-bottom slope that impacts the shoreline.

She said the Ministry told her team that conservation authorities may provide this service to speculative buyers and real estate agents, and that homebuyers and agents should do their own due diligence.

Lysyk wants the Ministry to work collaboratively with other government ministries, agencies and environmental experts to identify and map properties located in areas susceptible to erosion, and develop a provincial map to assist in developing priorities and strategies. She also wants community-based erosion-awareness and education programs implemented, especially for residents in high-risk areas.

The Ministry said it does not collect information about areas at potential high risk for erosion and municipalities are not required to share erosion risk information with the Province, provincial agencies or the public. Ministry officials said conservation authorities identify and map areas susceptible to erosion as part of administering their development, interference with wetlands and alterations to shorelines and watercourses.

The Ministry, however, said it will work with conservation authorities and municipalities to provide the public with any information or maps they have identifying areas that may be at high risk for erosion.

“The Ministry will review and update its erosions hazard technical guides and will make all updated guides available to the public once the updates are complete,” said the MNRF.

A 2012 study found that prior to 2000, the average rate of coastal erosion was 0.01 metres to 0.50 metres per year, but from 2014 to 2018 some parts of Great Lake shorelines experienced average annual erosion rates of 0.49 metres to 1.19 metres. More recent research published by the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction suggests that the problem has increased because the combination of high-water levels, more frequent storms, and less ice cover is exacerbating lake edge erosion.

The Ministry is the provincial lead for emergency management and response of hazards resulting from erosion, but conservation authorities and municipalities are charged with regulating development on private land on behalf of the Province for public safety and prevention.

“Municipalities are required to implement land-use planning policies to direct land development away from hazardous areas,” the annual report stated. “Where conservation authorities do not exist, the Ministry manages those hazards through its regional district offices.”

The Auditor General noted a combination of a changing climate, settlement patterns along waterways, and an increase in seasonal property investments is exposing more properties and assets to shoreline erosion.

“This has affected parts of Ontario, including the Lake Erie coast, where there is significant coastal/shoreline erosion and wave action,” said Lysyk.

A 2020 study by an environmental consulting firm hired by the Municipality of Chatham-Kent found that without proper intervention, a 58-square kilometre area around Chatham-Kent on Lake Erie is at risk of potential damage to 478 buildings and financial losses of up to $66 million due to erosion.