Phil Burgess stands at the end of the dock at French Creek Harbour and looks out to sea.
He shouldn’t be able to do that, he says, and his ability to do so has him deeply concerned.
“You can go almost anywhere in the harbour and look out on the water,” he said. “You couldn’t do that before and you shouldn’t be able to, if you’re in a safe harbour. You should be able to look anywhere and not see any water unless it’s protected by rock.”
That new openness, he fears, could result in serious damage to both the harbour itself and the boats that tie up there.
“A nor’ easter would take it all out of here,” he said, shaking his head. “A wind from the northeast would just come straight into the harbour. It would wipe us out.”
Burgess is a fisherman, the owner of Summer’s Retreat and two other boats tied up to the dock at French Creek and he said the changes made to expand the harbour have led to waves rolling into the formerly sheltered facility, causing damage to boats, to the docks and to boaters’ confidence that they can tie up in safety.
“They went ahead and took the breakwater out,” he said. “We tried to stop them, but we were told that was what was in the plan. It took them just three days to take it out.”
That was in January, he said and since that time, the once quiet waters have become anything but.
“French Creek has always been a mover, but we can live with that,” he said. “We can’t live with what’s coming in here now though. When the nor’ wester comes in it’s terrible. The Point Made normally sits as solid as anything, but now it’s rolling around so much it ripped the cleats out of The Lasqueti Endeavor that was tied up to it.”
The Lasqueti Endeavour, he said, suffered about $6,000 worth of damage in that storm — and he has had to pay some money out of his own pocket as well.
“I was tied up alongside a boat with big picture windows and the boats were rolling around so much part of my boat took his window out. That cost me $700.”
He’s not the only fisherman to express concern. Troy Sawyer is the owner of the Charlotte Dawn, which has also suffered damage as it slams against the dock.
“My boat came right up on the piling and ripped the gumwood right off,” he said. “We didn’t get the cold northeasters this winter, but when they come up from over at Whistler, it will wipe this harbour out.”
Burgess said the problem originates with the new, $3.9 million breakwater design, which is open to the northeast instead of wrapping around the harbour to provide full protection.
“I think this was built on a true north compass,” he said. “The wind comes on a magnetic compass though and that’s a difference of 25 degrees. There were some of the powers that be that were surprised to see that there was a 25-degree difference and I was quite surprised they didn’t know.”
French Creek Harbour manager Julie Blood confirmed there are concerns about the work.
“We know people are concerned but there isn’t anything we can say beyond the problem has been identified and people are working on it,” Blood said. The DFO are looking at the wave climate in the harbour and have gone back to the engineers to see what they can do about it. They are aware of the different conditions we have now as opposed to prior.”
Blood noted the Department of Fisheries and Oceans does not allow rock work in the water at this time because of fisheries issues, but they are working to resolve the wave concern. However, she wouldn’t speculate about what might happen if a strong northeaster were to blow into the harbour between now and when any remedial work might be done.
“I am not able to forecast what would happen,” she said. “All I can say is DFO is aware of the situation and are working on it and the board is aware and they’re working on it.”
Vahid Kahnamelli, the regional engineer for small craft harbours said his department is working “round the clock” to resolve the problem and he expects to have the issue resolved shortly.
“We recognize that some more work needs to be done in the very near future and we have already taken some steps, including adding some features into the existing breakwaters to alleviate some of the issues,” he said. “The harbour authority is participating in putting a log boom bundles and to reduce the agitation to the northwest northeast and also we have plans in place to put more floating catamarans to reduce agitation in the harbour.”
Kahnamelli said he expects more work to be initiated within days.
“In every engineering design there may be some unknowns we need to deal with at a later date,” he said. The severity of the storms are a little different than we expected, even though we built breakwater a meter higher than it used to be. We are going to be tending to it very soon to do some extra work at the breakwaters, possibly extending both breakwaters.”
He said he was entirely satisfied with the work done by the contractor on the federally-funded project, Copcan Contracting Ltd.