City moves to implement plan that mitigates storm erosion

The city is moving forward with plans to create a man-made beach at Robert Ostler Park despite objections from two councillors.

At its Monday meeting, council, with the exception of councillors Larry Samson and Charlie Cornfield, voted in favour of hiring McElhanney Consulting at a cost of $170,470 to complete designs for an engineered beach.

The approach, known as soft shore, will replace the rip rap currently on the park’s foreshore which has taken a beating during recent storms.

Coun. Cornfield said he disagrees with the entire project, which, along with the soft shore beach includes replacing underground infrastructure, storm system upgrades and readjustment of the Sea Walk and carries a $1.2 million price tag.

“I don’t agree with this project. We haven’t been able to build a boat launch in how many years?” Cornfield said. “The rip rap that was in there was installed there about 50 or 60 years ago – that was its life expectancy. You could rip rap the whole thing and it would last another 50 years.”

Engineering firm McElhanney, who was hired by the city to come up with a long term solution, discouraged the city from using rip rap, as consultants advised that adding more rip rap will not prevent the erosion of the underlying beach material. Engineers also cautioned that improperly designed rip rap would need frequent repairs and would result in more maintenance to upland portions of the park as the frequency and intensity of storms have been on the rise.

There also appears to be a degree of community support for the soft shore option.

In a survey posted online and in city facilities, more than 78 per cent of the 474 responses received favoured an engineered beach, as did the results of meetings with two city commissions and a public meeting in January on what to do with Robert Ostler Park. Coun. Ron Kerr said he takes that feedback to heart.

“I think we’ve done our due diligence on it and we’ve had the public consultation, it’s come through the commissions, and it is the preferred action,” he said.

Ross Milnthorp, the city’s general manager of parks, recreation and culture, said the bottom line is that the repairs to the underground storm water system from St. Ann’s to the water at Robert Ostler Park “have to be done at some point regardless of whether or not we do this soft shore project or not.”

Milnthorp said those works alone are in the neighbourhood of $700,000 and the remainder of the $1.2 million is for improvements specific to Robert Ostler Park, including the soft shore. A soft shore mimics natural run-up conditions of nearby beaches which dissipates wave energy and intensity, preventing erosion. The technique involves returning the beach to a more natural slope that helps protect the Sea Walk and the underground services from storm damage. It will also provide better public access to the beach via the park.

The city has used the engineered beach approach to try and mitigate storm damage on the shore near Rockland Road and the Island Highway and at Rotary, Dick Murphy and Ellis parks.

But Coun. Samson said he doesn’t think Robert Ostler Park is the right location for a soft shore beach.

“While I believe in soft shores, I see the wonderful work it’s done along our Sea Walk and Dick Murphy Park and other areas, to me this isn’t a prime area for soft shores,” Samson said. “I think it’ll be used sometimes by people we don’t want hanging around down there.”

Samson added that he thought the money could be spent more efficiently if the city didn’t use the soft beach approach.

Mayor Andy Adams said while he shares some of Samson and Cornfield’s concerns, and worries about a potential loss of green space, that council had already agreed on the soft shore.

“That decision has already been made. Council deliberated this last year when we heard from staff and the consultants and engineers and that decision was made and then it was confirmed during financial planning deliberations when council set aside $1.2 million for this project to be planned in 2016 and constructed in 2017,” Adams said. “So I believe that the will of council, which is representative of the will of the community, is to move ahead with this project and I think the design work here for this RFP (Request for Proposals) is the way to get it moving.”