The city hopes to prevent further washouts along the Sea Walk and Island Highway by changing its approach to managing the foreshore.
“In the past our instinct has been to fight nature but we want to turn that around 180 degrees and work with natural systems,” Ross Milnthorp, the city’s manager of parks, recreation and culture, said.
The city has been using reactive tactics such as concrete retaining walls and large rock riprap along the upper portion of the shoreline to keep the ocean from taking the land. That approach, known as armouring, has proved to be ineffective, Milnthorp said, as winter storm waves have taken out parts of the highway in Oyster River, Sea Walk in Ellis Park and Dick Murphy Park (Tyee Spit).
“Instead of protecting the shore, the armouring actually intensifies the wave energy and makes the problem much worse,” Milnthorp said.
A recent foreshore assessment study, conducted for the city, identifies the use of the natural environment as a more effective barrier.
“The foreshore assessment study links the management of materials that clog the boat ramps with the management of the foreshore and restoration projects,” Milnthorp said.
The long-term plan is to use the gravel that collects at Big Rock and Ken Forde boat ramps each year to re-nourish areas of beachfront that have been eroded and washed out.
Material from Ken Forde boat ramp was recently transported to beachfront just north of Rotary Beach to help re-construct parts of the beach and Sea Walk that were damaged by erosion.
The city is working on a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans for this fall that will allow the city to pre-determine which areas will be restored using the gravel and logs that clog up the boat ramps. The agreement would mean the boat ramps could be cleared out by early spring.
“We want to try and re-create the beach in its most natural form, using the soft-shore management approach,” said Milnthorp. “Natural, gradually sloping beaches with a mix of sand and gravels provides critical habitat for spawning forage fish which are an important food source for salmon and many other wildlife species.”
The city’s foreshore study also looks at including the natural vegetation when restoring sections of the foreshore and managing invasive species.
“There are a lot of invasive species that people aren’t aware of around the foreshore, particularly the blackberry, which obstructs access to the beach,” said Milnthorp. “Managing invasive species will be an important part of the overall foreshore management strategy.”
One of the biggest challenges for the city is that it does not own all 16 kilometres of the foreshore, which stretches from Orange Point in the north to Ocean Grove at the south end of the city.
The report recommends guidelines for private property owners to better protect their shorelines from erosion. It outlines research that shows that property owners who build too close to the waterfront and remove the natural vegetation, are exposing their property to winds and salt spray, and encouraging erosion.
“One of the long-term objectives is to get other foreshore property owners to work with nature and adopt a green shores approach,” said Milnthorp.