Planning ahead is key to protecting community from flood risk

Katie Tower
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Latest research points to social, economic vulnerabilities Sackville faces from rising sea levels

SACKVILLE, N.B. – A Mount Allison professor says communities like Sackville need to better plan and prepare for the risks of climate-change related floods.

David Lieske, geography and environment professor at the university, has been heading up a research project in which he and his team developed customized software to help communities better assess their vulnerabilities, and then hopefully take greater action, in the face of sea level rise.

“Ideally, the planning has to happen before the storm,” said Lieske.

Lieske said town officials, as well as federal and provincial governments, need to start being more proactive in protecting their communities, including shifting their approach to development and putting more emphasis on adaptation measures.

Sackville served as the test case for the software, since much of the mapping and other related research was already available through the work Lieske and his colleagues at the Geospatial Modelling Lab have been working on over the past couple of years as part of the Regional Adaptation Collaborative project.

Lieske said this latest work, called the Tantramar Community Adaptation Viewer Project, offers a more indepth look into a community’s social and economic vulnerability.

From this research comes a number of recommendations for Sackville to undertake, with one of the top priorities being to urge the provincial and federal governments to make a renewed investment into the dyke system.

“In the short term, the dykes are the single most efficient investment that can be made,” said Lieske.

With an anticipated cost of $2 to $2.5 million to top up the dykes sufficiently, Lieske said the protection it would offer to the highway infrastructure, the CN rail, the agriculture land and the town would be well worth the funds put into it. The estimated damages the community is facing, according to the research, is in the $6 to $13 million range, depending on the severity of the storm.

“There’s a lot benefitting from that investment,” he said. “It’s where you’d get the most bang for your buck.”

But that measure alone is not enough, said Lieske, as the dykes could face erosion and still continue to need regular maintenance. And they may not be fullproof against a significant storm system in the future.

Over the long term, this is where the town needs to start being proactive – municipal leaders need to step in and provide the leadership and vision to start taking a new approach to development in Sackville, said Lieske.

“We’ve got this window, because of the dykes, that can allow us to plan,” said Lieske.

He said the community needs to start having the discussions on these important issues and mindsets need to start shifting to enable the needed changes to happen, particularly when it comes to land-use planning.

“The town needs to take steps in steering development . . . to not allow the risk to increase,” said Lieske. “This includes limiting further development in the flood plain.”

To get Sackville’s involvement in this project, the research team brought together a group of local stakeholders – engineers, planners, town councillors, EMO personnel, dyke managers, etc. – and lead them through the new web-based software, which allowed them to zoom in, explore and see their community in a more detailed way. It also allowed them to pinpoint “locations of concern” or delineate specific areas in town which would be most impacted by a flood event. These included Lorne Street, the sewage lagoon, sections of highway, and several other geographic low points within the town.

The software also allows communities to add statistics or comments to highlight areas that might be more socially vulnerable, such as those which may require more resources due to some people’s inability to relocate in the event of a flood.

Lieske says the work of the research group could be adapted to other communities in New Brunswick that are at risk for flooding related to climate change. He said engaging people in the discussion on these issues is important, so there is not as much resistance to the adaptation measures.

“There needs to be consensus in the community to launch some of these initiatives.”

Lieske said the Tantramar Community Adaptation Viewer has the potential to be used in other jurisdictions as a land use and emergency planning tool as well as an educational and public awareness tool.

As for Sackville, he hopes people will take the time to read the report and become more informed on the risks involved and how the community needs to adapt:

“The link is there. I’d love people to read it.”

As well, residents will have the opportunity to receive a firsthand look at the findings of the report during an upcoming presentation with Lieske at Sackville town hall. The public meeting on the community flood vulnerability project will be held Monday, April 28 at 7 p.m. in town council chambers.


Some key recommendations made in the TCAV report:


– Dyke maintenance should continue, and requires renewed investment.

– Provincial/federal governments need to weigh the costs of proactive relocation versus post-flood disaster relief.

–  Town needs to develop a long-term flood mitigation plan. Municipal bylaws and land-use zoning should restrict development in flood-prone areas.

– Continue to educate and raise awareness about flood risk and actions residents and business owners can take to reduce the risk.

Tantramar MLA should be engaged in flood discussions.

– Drainage/sewage/lagoon system should be reassessed.

– Town could purchase emergency kits, backflow valves, crank radios in bulk and sell them to public.

– Risk reduction strategies, such as rain barrels or green space maintenance, should be promoted.

– Dialogue should begin with service providers who serve vulnerable populations.

– Communication should be enhanced among all levels of government and others, like CN Rail, that have joint responsibility for the maintenance of transportation systems.

Organizations: CN Rail, Geospatial Modelling Lab

Geographic location: Sackville, Tantramar Community, Lorne Street New Brunswick

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