Vanishing beach: Retaining walls reason for lost shore, say cottage owners
Kathy Foster’s family has lived in a cottage in Caissie Cape on the east coast of New Brunswick for 40 years.
Her parents bought their first cottage in the area in 1980 and now Foster enjoys spending her summers there with her children and grandchildren.
You are just a short walk from the beach and use your charter.
The problem is that at high tide they no longer have access to the beach because the water comes right on their way.
To get to dry sand, Foster has to walk through water, which can be waist deep. It’s not that easy, especially when her young grandchildren are with her.
“It’s difficult because you have a child in your arms and towels and all of their toys and things,” she said. “It’s a problem and it’s getting worse.”
“It seems to be moving very quickly.”
A sandy beach that was also accessible during a high tide during a 2014 storm now has to walk through the water at high tide six years later, right. (Danielle Faubert / Submitted and Maeve McFadden / CBC)
Danielle Faubert has also seen this rapid progress.
She and her family can access the beach via the same driveway as Foster. She said she had noticed a big change on the coast in the past five years.
“The rate at which this beach is shrinking is much more evident,” she said. “I would say we have easily lost 40 feet of dry beach in the last four to five years.”
Faubert argues that part of the reason they lost this dry beach is because of retaining walls built by the waterfront by the owners of the cottages.
Just don’t build it that close to the water.– Danielle Faubert
The lots on either side of their driveway have retaining walls. These walls are made of layers of large stones to protect the waterfront property from erosion.
Faubert said this is one of the reasons they say they will no longer have access to the beach at high tide.
“The retaining walls are large and very high,” said Faubert. “You couldn’t climb over them. So you really have to get in the water and walk around the retaining walls to get to the beach.”
Faubert wants to see an end to the construction of these retaining walls because she fears that they will accelerate the rate of erosion.
“I would like a moratorium that would prevent people from building new walls and expanding their existing ones,” said Faubert. “What I’d really like to see is that they have to remove these walls and replace them with something that is more environmentally friendly.”
Faubert would go one step further with this moratorium. She wants to see an end to the waterfront construction because erosion is inevitable.
“If people can keep building brand new houses or houses near the water, they will inevitably be forced to put up some kind of retaining wall.” She said.
With more storms and flooding along the coast, Faubert said, protecting property becomes more difficult and the cost of repairs after a major storm can be significant.
“There is no flood insurance near the water.”
Faubert says property owners often turn to the government for financial assistance when their insurance companies fail to cover the cost of damage incurred during a storm.
“It’s the tax money that goes into these relief funds,” she said. “It’s New Brunswick taxpayers dollars, including people who can’t afford vacation homes or second homes.”
“I really think the solution is not to build that close to the water.”
Danielle Faubert and Kathy Foster use this right of way to gain access to the beach during normal tide in July. (Maeve McFadden / CBC)The Kent Regional Service Commission is the authority responsible for obtaining building permits in the area that includes Caissie Cape.
According to Jean Goguen, the Commission’s Planning Director, these permits are granted under the National Building Code of Canada.
New Brunswick Province Building Regulations allow waterfront property owners to build ten feet from the back line of property, which for some Caissie Cape property owners may be Northumberland Strait.
According to Goguen, there are exceptions to these regulations to protect wetlands and low-lying salt marshes.
“We make sure that the owners are following the rules and regulations set by the province of New Brunswick,” said Goguen.
KRSC inspectors are warning owners of damage caused by storms, hurricanes, and flooding to homes or cottages near the water. You may recommend building further away from the water, but ultimately these owners have the right to build within the guidelines set.
When it comes to retaining walls, Goguen said that was not part of their jurisdiction.
He said the KRSC is not issuing permits for retaining walls.
“There are no set criteria for building these walls,” he said, adding that they are not covered by national building codes.
The New Brunswick Coastal Protection Policy sets guidelines. The guideline was published in 2002 and updated in 2019.
The political will to stop this is not there– Jeff Ollerhead
Both versions give owners the green light to use boulders or build retaining walls to protect their land.
The document states that “acceptable erosion control structures” are allowed in Zone A, which is defined as the areas closest to the water known as the core of coastal areas.
The only update is that property owners now have to provide evidence of erosion evidence and a risk to the infrastructure.
According to the Ministry of the Environment, coastal projects usually do not require a permit to modify the watercourse and wetlands.
Permission is only required if there is a watercourse – a coastal tributary – or wetland area within 30 meters of the project site. In this case, technical drawings can be requested depending on the scope of the project.
In the Bank Protection Projects document, written in June 2019, the department lists vegetation such as grasses, shrubs, trees, vines and live cuttings as the first preference for erosion control measures.
This is followed by rip rap / armor stone – a layer of boulders, cobblestones, or boulders placed over an exposed slope.
Last on the list are retaining walls. These are typically wire baskets or cages filled with stone or wooden cribs, steel, or concrete.
Property owners use boulders and retaining walls to keep their waterfront properties from eroding (Shelley Rodgers / Submitted)Environmentalists and coastal erosion experts in New Brunswick have warned the government for years about the damage caused by certain coastal developments.
Jeff Ollerhead, a coastal geomorphologist at Mount Allison University, isn’t surprised that Faubert and Foster no longer have access to the beach at high tide.
“That is exactly what we would expect,” he said.
“Remember, if you stop the erosion, you are stopping the sediment that is actually creating the beach. So if you stop the erosion, you are, by definition, actually stopping the beach. You are endangering the beach because it is there.”
Sea levels are rising faster, according to Ollerhead, but people are still building along the coast.
“The political will to stop this is not there.”
“It’s a social choice,” he said. “If you want beaches, if you want wide beaches, if you want beach access, you have to be prepared not to have hard walls, no dikes.”
Ollerhead said the aim is to balance the general interests of the public with private owners who want to protect their investments.
He points to Ontario as an example of a jurisdiction with strict coastal regulations and a framework that recognizes dynamic coastlines.
“So they not only tell you that there is a line here and that you have to build behind the line, but that line is redefined every few years.”
According to Ollerhead, these regulations are changing coastal development. “Even if you had built a structure in a certain place in the 1990s, you couldn’t build a structure in the same place today because the coast has receded.”
Ollerhead said there are more environmentally friendly ways to protect homes from erosion by planting vegetation and contouring slopes, but nothing can prevent erosion.
“I mean, the coast will retreat for 30, 50, 100 years.”
This aerial view shows the wharf and cottages at Caissie Cape in July. Photo credit: Shelley Rodgers / filed (Shelley Rodgers / filed)He said the coast was hundreds of meters further into Northumberland Strait 1,000 years ago. “So if you don’t allow the coast to recede naturally, you will end up in conflict.”
Ollerhead said society had to decide which was more important – protecting the coast or the rights of owners.
“Go to a jurisdiction like Florida where private property rights generally override public interests.”
Ollerhead said there are many parts of this state where the general public cannot access the beaches due to walls and fences being built to keep people out.
“What kind of world do you want?”