N.L. seeking financial help as municipalities recover from blizzard
A resident digs a path from his house in St. John’s on Saturday, January 18, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan)
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. -- One week after a record-breaking blizzard battered eastern Newfoundland, businesses in St. John's were permitted to call in staff Friday to prepare for the lifting of a state of emergency the next morning.
The provincial capital has been under the emergency declaration for eight days since last week's fierce storm that dumped more than 76 centimetres of snow in a single day.
The city has kept emergency measures in place while staff worked to clear the streets, as have several neighbouring towns including Mount Pearl, which lifted its own state of emergency on Friday.
As communities in the region gradually work their way back to normal operations, many municipal politicians say they are seeking financial assistance for million of dollars from storm-related costs, including damages, worker overtime and extra fuel for snow-clearing equipment.
St. John's Mayor Danny Breen said this week he would be seeking assistance from the federal government to help cover the cost of the cleanup and to support workers who lost pay during the shutdown, though the city has not yet put a price tag on the operation.
In a news conference Friday, Breen said: "I'm not focused on the cost of this operation, I'm focused on of getting it done."
He said the city has been challenged by back-to-back heavy snowfalls this winter, even before the most recent blizzard. He warned that conditions would remain tricky and said the city still has work to do, advising drivers to remain cautious when hitting the roads on Saturday.
In an effort to reduce traffic while cleanup work continues, the city is offering free public transit until Feb. 7.
North of St. John's in the historic community of Bonavista, Mayor John Norman said the storm surge and waves -- some of them up to nine metres high -- had knocked down already deteriorating sea walls that protect aging homes along the coast.
The town is still working on cost estimates, but Norman said he's "quite certain" Bonavista has taken on at least $1 million in damage.
A week after the storm, Norman said the need for funding has become urgent. He expects the infrastructure will not withstand another major storm without far more severe and costly damages to homes, roads and water and sewer lines underneath.
"We're now in an emergency situation," Norman said by phone Friday.
After witnessing increasingly severe storms over the last few years, Norman said he has "no doubt" his community is being affected by climate change, and infrastructure needs to be adapted accordingly.
"There's no possible way anyone that anyone in Newfoundland these days can deny that the climate is more volatile. Winter storms, summer storms, fall hurricanes, everything is stronger in the last 15 or 20 years," he said.
Conception Bay South, another coastal community on the Avalon Peninsula, also saw major damage to infrastructure from the storm surge.
Mayor Terry French said the surging ocean damaged roads across his community, ripped storm sewers out of the ground and destroyed parts of a central walking trail.
"We're looking at millions of dollars, if not tens of millions of dollars, to replace some of this -- and some of it we've got to do right away," he said. "Obviously, living in Newfoundland and Labrador, we know the wind will blow again."
For the City of Mount Pearl. which borders St. John's, mayor Dave Aker said the biggest costs will come from the extra snow-clearing efforts, including worker overtime, road salt, equipment maintenance and fuel.
"There's no doubt, it's going to be a lot of money," he said, adding it's too early to know the total cost.
In Bay Roberts, about 90 kilometres west of St. John's, Mayor Philip Wood said he's heard of some operators working 75 hours this week -- essentially double their usual weekly hours.
He said the town is hoping to receive some funding if federal assistance is made available to cover costs.
"It's gonna be costly, but it's not gonna break us," Wood said.
Premier Dwight Ball said Thursday the province would request financial assistance from Ottawa to help recover costs to communities and infrastructure.
About 400 Armed Forces personnel have been in the province this week, responding to hundreds of requests from people unable to dig themselves out of their homes.
Federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair told reporters in Ottawa on Friday morning that the Liberal government would do all it could to help people in the region recover from the storm.
"Newfoundlanders can count on our support," said Blair.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 24, 2020.