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Town's more proactive approach in regard to flooding

A barrier can be seen to the right of an ice-filled Brierly Brook, during a wet afternoon in Antigonish this past January. The rainy daytime weather was forecasted to be followed by cold temperatures, so the Town of Antigonish was restricting parking close to the brook.
A barrier can be seen to the right of an ice-filled Brierly Brook, during a wet afternoon in Antigonish this past January. The rainy daytime weather was forecasted to be followed by cold temperatures, so the Town of Antigonish was restricting parking close to the brook. - Richard MacKenzie

Learning from February 2018 incident

ANTIGONISH, N.S. —

It has been another winter of wet weather followed by extreme cold temperatures here in northeastern Nova Scotia, but there wasn’t a repeat of the February 2018 situation where flooding from Brierly Brook into the Creighton Lane parking lot, in downtown Antigonish, saw numerous cars encased in ice and some damaged beyond repair. 

A more proactive strategy by Town of Antigonish officials has been a big factor in the non-repeat and Chief Administrative Officer Jeff Lawrence said if you don’t learn from experience, “you’re destined to repeat the same thing over-and-over again.

“Up until last February, there had never been an episode that was as quick or severe as what happened that day. There were a number of factors which led to it, but it would have been almost impossible to predict that would have happened,” Lawrence said, talking to the Casket April 3.

“Because of what happened last February, the town was far more cautious. One of the contributing factors last year is the weather was forecasting about an inch of rain and we received well over two inches of rain; so that created some concern as to how much we can rely just on the forecast for the amount of precipitation.

“And 20 minutes before the parking lot was fully flooded, we were down and viewed the sight and it was dry; it was amazing how quickly it could happen.

“This year, we understood better what the magnitude could be and how quickly it could happen, so a conscience decision was made to be more proactive when there were concerns that we felt had any significance at all.”

Scene from the ice build-up and flooding incident in Creighton Lane parking lot in February 2018.
Scene from the ice build-up and flooding incident in Creighton Lane parking lot in February 2018.

Lawrence said a three stage approach was initiated.

“Basically, three marks you would have seen in the parking lot,” he said. “If we had moderate concerns, we would block off just around the brook perimeter. If we had a greater degree of concern we picked the mid-point, and if there were large concerns we just blocked off the whole parking lot.

“It causes some inconveniences for businesses but it seems to have worked a lot better for vehicle owners, so I anticipate we will continue to be, in the future, more proactive. Again, not wanting a repeat of what we saw in February of 2018.”

Another aspect playing a factor this winter was a communications’ position created on town staff. The job entailed getting word out about what the situation was at the popular lot.

“One of the additional steps we took was we created a communications and marketing position; and one of the things we asked Kate Gorman to do, she was the person selected for the position, was to come up with a communication plan as to how we were going to advertise these sort of events,” Lawrence said. “We were, in quicker fashion, able to make the media aware of it and to post on social media.”

All-in-all, Lawrence said the new strategies paid off.

“I would say it has been very successful,” he said. “We did end up removing a few vehicles from the parking lot during one event; I don’t believe any of those vehicles received any significant damage at all … I think they were removed before they were damaged.

“I know it does cause some concerns for the merchants in the area; it interferes with parking which has an impact on their businesses, but I think the proof is in the fact there were a number of events this year and there were no significant damage.”

Water courses

Lawrence added town officials continue work on trying to have a better understanding of the water courses in the community.

“We did have a company fly a drone over the relevant sections of the Wright’s, West and Brierly Brook when the ice was at its peak about two weeks ago, and we’re having the same company fly those sections now to try and have a bird’s eye view to see if there are mitigating steps we can take,” he said.

“At the end of the day, three major water courses run through our community; there is always going to be some level of concern with flooding. But, if there are steps we can take to mitigate it, that are cost effective, we want to better understand what those could be.”

Scene from the ice build-up and flooding incident in Creighton Lane parking lot in February 2018. File
Scene from the ice build-up and flooding incident in Creighton Lane parking lot in February 2018. File

Lawrence noted the town did spend around $25,000 this year deepening the channel on the Wright’s River.

“You get ice build-up more where the water course is shallow and slow moving, so trying to take some steps that will help to alleviate the situation,” he said.

“The way our water flows, a lot of the problem is created, quite often, when there is ice in the West, and the Wright’s and Brierly Brook can’t become freed up.”

Changing weather patterns is part of the discussion towards a better understanding.

“That’s part of our study… sea levels,” he said. “These water courses eventually end up in the harbour and what the changing temperatures do to the make-up of the ice, and what we can expect in the future.”

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