A group of Dock Area residents, led by two professional engineers, are unhappy with the latest town proposal for the Balls Beach shoreline protection plan.
As a mining engineer, Ron Simkus has spent decades working throughout the world in and around water. From his unique perch on River Beach Road, he has been compiling and sharing lake level reports since 2017. He recently sent out his 200th weekly report since flooding became a major problem along the shoreline.
The much-discussed groyne, consisting of the large rock barrier that juts out into the river at Ball’s Beach to control erosion and drifting, failed to protect the beach from flooding in 2017 and again in 2019, putting a historic culvert and public infrastructure at risk. Both incidents have been referred to as 100-year events, which have become common as climate change becomes more severe.
Simkus has been following the latest shoreline protection plan, presented Monday to council at a committee of the whole meeting, and he doesn’t like what he has heard.
“The problem with this whole thing right now,” Simkus says, “is that they’re asking us to abandon the stormwater program for the fifth year in a row. What’s incorrect with this, is that Baird & Associates (an engineering firm from Oakville) had been working here since 2003. And the town hired Shoreplan Engineering instead. I was told that was because they had been working in the neighbourhood.“
Simkus is concerned that the years of experience and data compiled by Baird was thrown to the side when Shoreplan was brought in. He says the new contractors started from scratch, and he suspects funds earmarked to improve drainage protection for homes behind the beach area may be used to pay for the new plans.
“Five years later, the design that they (Shoreplan) are recommending looks exactly the same as what Baird had proposed 15 years ago,” he says. “It’s time for a timeout here. What are we doing?”
Once Shoreplan was hired, Simkus took the initiative to contact the original Baird engineer, who confirmed to him that Baird was not consulted by the town once the change was made.
“There was some criticism before 2017 that the shoals there were not doing their job,” Simkus tells The Local. “His comment was that there were two parts to the job. Baird’s was to build the shoals off the water’s edge, while the town’s part was to fill in behind them so the water didn’t come in around and behind them. The town never did that.”
That, of course, resulted in two summers of dire situations for those living in the area. Simkus remembers nine months of putting up with the noise from large generators installed at the beach near his property to pump the water away from the homes.
Peter Ristevski, an engineer and president of Markham-based Macrotek Inc., a major air pollution control designer and supplier, owns a home that backs onto the path leading from Delater Street to the beach.
“During the high water levels the whole back yard, including my neighbour’s property, flooded,” Ristevski says. “I have asked since October 2020 for them to tell me why the elevations (along the path) are higher than the plans they showed us it would look like. They are almost up to a metre higher. And it’s unfinished.”
“The failed groyne and the completion of the park that was promised to be done in the fall of 2020,” he continues, echoing Simkus’ concerns, “are connected financially. They come out of the same budget. Council may be asked to decide on which one takes priority.”
Ristevski, Simkus and others want to know when the parkette will be completed and the potential for another drainage problem eliminated. And they do not want to see budget money for that project funnelled into yet another reconstruction of the groyne.
Following Monday’s meeting, during which Jane Graham of Shoreplan and Peter Ventin of peer reviewer GEI Consultants fielded questions from council, Simkus remained frustrated.
“The discussion kept revolving around the words ‘record high’,” he said in an email. “Some councillors talked about lake levels, but it was river flows that the discussion should have been about.”
Simkus pointed to the Fort Erie flow monitoring data that was frequently referenced during the presentation.
“The instrument was clearly demonstrating erratic readings prior to the failure and the engineers (Graham and Ventin) admitted that. Parallel readings taken by the USGS (United States Geological Survey) and the US Army Corps of Engineers in Buffalo do not support these extreme values, and nobody talks about them. Why?”
“They are saying they are victims of an act of God that blew all the records away,” he continued. “There was never a single record broken in all of that. And I don’t know why the peer reviewers accepted it, and that Shoreplan wouldn’t even explain why the instrument might have been broken.”
Simkus said that Coun. Sandra O’Connor asked some great questions of the presenters and town irrigation and drainage superintendent Brett Ruck. Coun. Gary Burroughs, at the end of the hour-plus portion of the meeting, wanted to know who was at fault.
“I assume somebody is going to want to put blame on somebody,” Burroughs speculated. “Is it engineers, is it the construction people, is it the town? Who is at fault? We can say nobody’s at fault, it was a 100-year storm. But a lot of money is involved in either fixing it or what we’ve already put in.”
“Why isn’t the repair of the groyne covered under an insurance claim,” Simkus speculates. “If there is no grounds for a claim, then the town staff have to accept the culpability for the failure. What did they do? Who’s accountable?”
Coun. Alan Bisback asked what would happen if the shoreline was left as is.
“When we had this failure,” Ruck told council, “we didn’t want to come running right back saying ‘this is the right way to do it’. Even today, we know so much more than we did before, but we now have people still questioning if this is the right thing. We need to work through the process, and when it’s ready, it’s ready.”
“The repair that is there now is temporary,” Graham added. “It is not a design that is meant to last. Things may occur in the meantime. I do support monitoring, I do support seeing what’s going on and making the best decision we can based on what we are seeing.”
Prior to the meeting, Simkus feared that a vote would be taken to accept the shoreline plan and move forward with the development of a new design to either repair, replace or move the headland feature to prevent future erosion from occurring. And that the money for stormwater drainage closer to the residential area would be dedicated to the new design.
In the end, CAO Marnie Cluckie recommended that the matter be approached at council once again in a month’s time.
“At this point,” Cluckie said, “we just wanted to bring as much information as possible, as soon as possible. It was simply meant as an update. Staff will bring information forward hopefully for next month, seeking direction at that point.”
That comes as a relief of sorts for Simkus.
“I told her myself through email that I strongly recommend that you do not put this forward,” says Simkus. “I think there are too many unknowns here. My strongest advice is that we have to get rid of Shoreplan. Stop paying them and don’t let them do any more work.”