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Conditions worrisome: Three wharves on Cape Sable Island continuing to deteriorate

Fishing wharf conditions worrisome. KATHY JOHNSON
Grass grows in the rotted creosote timbers on a portion of the Cripple Creek Wharf in Clam Point used as berthage for at least one vessel. Concerns about the condition of this wharf, as well as numerous others in the area are growing. KATHY JOHNSON

CAPE SABLE ISLAND, N.S. – There is growing concern about the deteriorating conditions of the three commercial fishing wharves on the eastern side of Cape Sable Island; Cripple Creek wharf in Clam Point, Bulls Head wharf in Stoney Island and the South Side wharf in South Side.

“We’re only one good storm away from the destruction of one or more of these wharves,” said Wayne Smith, veteran fisherman and former municipal councillor, during a presentation to the Barrington and Area Chamber of Commerce on May 7.

Smith, of Clam Point, along with Dick Crowell, manager of the Harbour Authority of Cape Sable Island (HACSI), have been approaching community partners for letters of support to back proposals that have been submitted to DFO’s Small Craft Harbours branch for port improvements and re-development at the Cripple Creek wharf in particular.

“Many of our wharves and harbours, the needed backbone of the most important industry in Nova Scotia, have reached the end of, or surpassed their life expectancy,” wrote Barrington Municipal Warden Eddie Nickerson, in a letter to federal Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc.

Nickerson said specifically the municipality supports the re-development of the Cripple Creek wharf.

“With each storm there is further damage to this aging infrastructure and the fishers who use Cripple Creek risk their livelihood due to wharves not being strong enough or large enough to accommodate their needs,” said Nickerson, formally requesting the fisheries minister to visit the area and to support infrastructure improvements not only for Cripple Creek wharf, but other ports in need of repair along the shores.

Dick Crowell, manager of the Harbour Authority of Cape Sable Island (HACSI) talks about the deteriorating conditions of the wharves in the area. Of particular concern to the HACSI is the Cripple Creek Wharf in Clam Point.
Dick Crowell, manager of the Harbour Authority of Cape Sable Island (HACSI) talks about the deteriorating conditions of the wharves in the area. Of particular concern to the HACSI is the Cripple Creek Wharf in Clam Point.

The wharves on the eastern side of Cape Sable Island are in the worst shape because they suffer from the worst weather effects, said Crowell in an interview.

“The environmental pressures from the sea are really accelerating the deterioration of those wharves,” said Crowell. “After a while it just has a cumulative affect not only from silting in the harbours but also from the pressure of the surges that go in those harbours. They work their way in.

“Those breakwaters are great because without them, there wouldn’t be a harbour there, but they don’t break the total energy down. They stop the full impact but the energy is still there,” he added, saying it has to be dissipated so it enters the harbour creating surges that rock the berthed vessels back and forth, putting lateral pressure on the wharves and what they’re tied to.

“I’m doing two insurance claims now for damage to boats from pieces of timber coming off the wharf in Clam Point,” said Crowell, noting the timbers were treated with creosote which hasn’t been used for a very long time in wharf construction.

Safety is another area of concern, with rising sea heights and storm surges causing the wharves to get overtopped with water.

“That’s becoming more common than it ever was,” said Crowell. “That’s a safety issue. Fishermen have a lot of investment sitting there and they go tend their boats and tend their lines and are forced to go out on that wharf in those kinds of conditions. It’s very dangerous.”

The deterioration of the wharf infrastructure “is pretty much common” in the area, said Crowell because Small Craft Harbours has been chronically underfunded for many years.

About 165 boats use the six wharves under the HACSI. Add to that the West Head wharf fleet and there are approximately 300 active fishing boats using the wharves on Cape Sable Island. If one of those wharves were extensively damaged and rendered unusable it would be “economically devastating” said Crowell. “There would be nowhere to put boats.”

Argyle-Barrington MLA Chris d’Entremont has also written the federal Fisheries Minister, asking him for support in finding solutions to port infrastructure challenges.

“There are 26 ports in the constituency of Argyle-Barrington and I would guess that all of them require some kind of work, ranging in value from a few thousand dollars to millions of dollars,” wrote d’Entremont. “Recent storms have caused damage and has made fishers question the long-term sustainability and safety of these ports, due to the severity of the storms and rising sea levels,” he said, naming Cripple Creek, East Pubnico, Dennis Point Abbott’s Harbour and Camp Cove as wharves in the Argyle-Barrington riding requiring “large investments.”

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