February 4, 2019 7:58 pm

Saint John asking for federal funding to help mitigate climate change impact

Fri, Feb 4: As sea levels rise and storms become more frequent and powerful, coastal cities in Atlantic Canada are beginning to look for ways to mitigate the impacts of climate change. As Silas Brown reports, Saint John is looking to shore up some key infrastructure and considering what future changes may be needed.

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The City of Saint John, along with Saint John Energy, is looking to qualify for federal funding that would help protect key infrastructure from the effects of climate change.

A proposal submitted to the Disaster Mitigation Adaptation Fund (DMAF) is asking for $11.9 million to help relocate and combine two electric substations, several Saint John Water pumping stations, and to improve the seawall at the former Coast Guard property.

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Dana Young, manager of Asset Management for Saint John Energy, says the Crown and Union substations are aging and increasingly at risk from environmental factors.

“Our portion of the application is for the decommissioning of two existing substations. One would be the Crown Street substation … where there is a bit of land slippage so we’re concerned about reliability,” Young said.

“The other one, of course, would be Union Street substation at the bottom of Smythe. With that substation, of course, with its proximity to the harbour and the waterfront, there’s the salt-spray, wave action, and flooding concerns that we have there.”

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According to a report presented to the city’s finance committee on Friday, the two substations are responsible for “more than 7,500 residents and 1,150 businesses, employing more than 25 per cent of the regional workforce.”

Young says that the funding would give the utility a chance to replace the existing aging infrastructure without having to raise rates for consumers.

“A lot of the infrastructure in those existing substations is over 60 years old,” he said.

“Now it’s to the point in the next three to four years where we either have to maintain it or move it… We’re on the tipping point of making that decision and we’d like very much to remove that flood risk.”

Last spring, Saint John experienced historic flood levels with the Saint John river reaching 1.6 metres over flood stage.

According to the report “[t]his flood event caused significant damage to the municipal infrastructure such as sanitary sewer system back-up, electrical utility infrastructure and coastal structure SeaWall [sic].”

“The DMAF program is the opportunity to obtain assistance with mitigation efforts for future flooding events and sea level rise.”

This funding is just one piece of a longer look at how the city is preparing to handle rising sea levels and increased flooding as was seen in the spring.

“We have a lot of challenges associated with infrastructure that hasn’t been renewed for a long time, places that we took for granted that are beautiful coastal spaces but we still face those risks of, if we get a storm surge at high tide, we are very unprepared for those moments,” said Graeme Stewart-Robertson, executive director of the Atlantic Coastal Action Program Saint John (ACAP).

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ACAP Saint John provided some background consultation for the city’s application to the DMAF which was submitted on January 11, but is also working on a larger climate adaptation plan that will come before Common Council in the spring of 2020.

“It’s extremely important for any municipality in this day and age to have an adaptation plan for climate change in place,” Stewart-Robertson said.

Saint John faces a set of particular circumstances, common to other older coastal cities.

“As an old community that has a lot of infrastructure that dates 150, 200 plus years ago, we built at a level for sea level that’s actually already increased since those days and that time period,” he said.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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