‘It’s not if it will breach, it’s when it will breach.’

Thunderstorm over Hillman Marsh. June 27, 2020. (File photo courtesy of Robert Longphee)

Residents along the eastern shore of the Point Pelee Peninsula are hoping government funding comes through to address what they call an ecological nightmare.

Severe weather events over the past few years, brought on by climate change, have taken their toll on the Hillman Marsh area, located just northeast of Point Pelee National Park within the Municipality of Leamington. Now residents are hoping the government will step in and save it before it gets wiped out.

According to a 12-page report obtained by WindsorNewsToday.ca, the demise of the marsh area has been ongoing for decades. Aerial photographs showed dense wetland vegetation as far back as the mid-1950s. This vegetation has been a distant memory as high water levels have cut into the shoreline.

Wayne King, of the Leamington Shoreline Association, told WindsorNewsToday.ca that the problem got worse following severe storms in the spring of 2018.

“That essentially wiped out all of the trees in about a 2,000-foot area of the beach,” said King. “Well, then after the trees were removed by those storms, all that was left was the sand and after the next storm, it breached.”

King is afraid that it will only be a matter of time before 500 homes and businesses in the area, plus 7,500 acres of vital farmland and 3,800 acres of the national park itself, could end up underwater forever.

“Should we get high water levels again, which we will, because they’re predicting them under climate change, that clay berm will breach,” said King. “It’s not if it will breach, it’s when it will breach.”

Leamington Mayor Hilda MacDonald is well aware of the issues surrounding Hillman Marsh, and the Municipality has applied for an $18-million aid package from the federal and provincial governments for the protection of those homes and farmland.

The mayor told WindsorNewsToday.ca that the trouble with that is, that there has been no word on the application’s status from either Ottawa or Queens Park.

“We don’t have the resources in the Municipality to pay for an $18-million project, so we’re kind of holding our breath that nothing goes wrong, and hopefully the money comes in sooner rather than later,” said MacDonald.

MacDonald said the conversation on the preservation of Hillman Marsh has gone back decades, but she has begun to lose her patience over how slow action has been. She also understands that people who have lived in the area their entire lives may not be ready to pull up stakes and leave.

“We get what it’s like to get backlogged, but seriously, with climate change and extreme climate events, we do feel that there needs to be some urgency put on this by the upper levels of government,” said MacDonald.

King is among those also not willing to wait a long time for action, as he said he has seen this evolve since he was a child.

“I’ve seen what has happened to it from when I was an infant to what it is today, and that is an ecological disaster,” said King. “There’s the crisis of that berm breaching and flooding that 7,500 acres. The other is the ecological damage.”

The $18-million application was also supported by the Essex Region Conservation Authority (ERCA), made toward the Federal Government Disaster Mitigation and Adaption Fund (DMAF).

—with files from Adelle Loiselle