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‘They have been neglected too long’: Shelburne County wharves in desperate need of repairs


Published on July 10, 2017

Two fishermen were standing on the government wharf in Ingomar recently when, suddenly, they heard the sound of wharf rocks falling into the ocean and watched as debris floated away.

The incident, which occurred in late June, was initially reported to Shelly Hipson, the wharf supervisor. She informed Small Craft Harbours, an arm of the federal Department of Fisheries that is responsible for the government-owned wharves.

Hipson said it was discovered the crib work that supports the wharf had washed away.

“It’s completely gone,” she said.

The wharf was inspected and access for large vehicles like fuel trucks will be restricted. She's worried, though, that come the beginning of fishing season, fishermen will not be able to load their traps.

She said the state of disrepair isn't really a surprise, as the wharf is 70 years old. The real surprise is that the much-utilized wharf hasn’t been replaced sooner.

The wharf was inspected seven years ago but has not seen any work done to the infrastructure over the years.

The wharf holds 38 boats, with boats berthed abreast two or three deep.

Hipson said while no wharf should be expected to live 70 years, another problem is that the wharf was designed in a time that the fishing vessels were much smaller. Fishing boats used to run around 32 feet long by 15 wide, she said, but are now averaging 50 feet by 30 feet wide.

 

Important infrastructure

The wharf, she said, is essential to the community.

“This is our bread and butter,” said Hipson.  “This is what keeps our community alive.”

She's frustrated by the slow process to fix the issue. Whenever she inquires about a status update, she always gets the same answer: there isn’t money to fix the wharf.

“This infrastructure supports one of the largest industries in Canada,” said Hipson. “Our wharves are way behind…they have been neglected too long. This is a billion dollar industry and we are tying up to shit wharves that are crumbling into our harbour.”

 

Wider problem

The Ingomar Wharf isn't the only local wharf that is in much need of infrastructure repairs; both Lockeport and Bear Point have old wharves in need of attention.

Sheila Acker is the bookkeeper for the government wharves in Lockeport and says the South Wharf in Lockeport is in need of immediate and urgent repair. She's concerned with how quickly the wharf will get repaired.

“We were after them (Small Craft Harbours) a number of years just to get a structural investigation,” said Acker.

In May, an investigation revealed immediate work was needed to the structural section of the wharf below the water level. Repairs are desperately needed to the H-pile, as well as urgent remedial work to the wharf. There is also a long list of smaller repairs.

“We have closed our harbour to any new vessels because it is unsafe,” said Acker.

She said two of the three wharves in Lockeport are in high need of repair as well.

The haul out cradle was deemed condemned and removed causing a concern as there is no facility for emergencies.

This wharf is the safest berthing area for the majority of the vessels during severe storm conditions when they must relocate from two other fairly-exposed wharves, Acker said.  As a result, she said, it incurs major stresses in the most relentless conditions.

With the Shelburne wharf also getting upgrades, it cannot be used to tie up to in an emergency. That leaves a significant lack of safe harbours available to fishermen in the area.

The May investigation report said the repairs needed to be done by March 2018. If not done by then, she said, "Berthage may be more severely limited which will affect the larger vessels as it is difficult for them to berth at the other two wharves."  Fuel delivery and fish trucks may also be restricted due to the load limits.

 

No funding

“It took so long to get the inspection, I don’t know if there is funding available,” she said.

Acker says that the applications for funding go through a project ranking system to deem which structures need work and funding the most.

“It seems to be being bypassed by political will,” said Acker.  “We are not getting the cooperation or funding we need from Small Craft Harbours.”

She said the government needs to support the traditional fishery better.

“I was hired as a bookkeeper,” she said.  “I don’t feel we need to become political activists to get our harbours safe for our fishermen.”

 

Did you know?

Small Craft Harbours is currently responsible for 1,015 harbours, including 886 fishing harbours and 129 recreational harbours. Together, these harbours include almost 6,000 structures valued at approximately $2.1 billion.