By Richard Bell
The growing death toll from Cyclone Idai in Mozambique is a harsh reminder of the Eastern Shore’s vulnerability to increasingly powerful hurricanes. Global warming is raising the temperature of the oceans, providing more energy to fuel hurricanes even more intense than the infamous Hurricane Juan.
Previous Nova Scotia governments, despite the province’s thousands of kilometers of coastline and overwhelming reliance on the coast for fishing and tourism, have never been able to produce a coastal management plan. There was a serious effort under the last NDP government, but after lots of consulting and public hearings, nothing happened.
So after years of inaction, the Liberal government has finally proposed a Coastal Protection Act (Bill 106) in an attempt to reduce storm damage by requiring greater setbacks for new construction along the shore.
Nancy Anningson, the Ecology Action Centre’s Senior Coastal Adaptation Coordinator, told the Cooperator that the legislation would put an end to the “Wild West” of coastal regulation. “Right now, every municipal jurisdiction in Nova Scotia has its own rules about building on the water; some require setbacks, and some have no rules at all. One of biggest impacts will be setting consistent minimum standard for setbacks.”
Enforcement of the new setbacks will fall to local governments, probably through the building and development permitting process. The new rules will not take effect for at least a year in order to give municipalities time to prepare. Existing structures will not be affected. Anningson said that there were some concerns that people might rush to get building permits before the rules take effect, but that in the end, “the people who try to bend the rules are going to be the most affected when their properties are flooded.”
Anningson said the law’s other major change was “defining a coastal protection zone, so you can’t just come along and throw tons of rocks on top of a marsh or a wetland. When you armor up a piece of the coast, that wave energy has to go somewhere, so you’re actually making things worse for neighboring properties.”
The proposed law explicitly recognizes the potential negative impact of building in this coastal protection zone: “[H]uman-made structures designed to delay or obstruct the natural migration and shifting of coastal features may accelerate the effects of coastal erosion and may accelerate these effects on adjacent properties that do not contain similar structures.”
The Ecology Action Centre and Fisheries and Oceans Canada have a special joint website dedicated to helping people understand sea level, including a number of online tools for calculating and visualizing the impact of various levels of sea level rise along the Nova Scotia coast. (http://www.sealevelrise.ca).