One week after a record-breaking blizzard battered eastern Newfoundland, businesses in St. John’s were permitted to call in staff on Friday to prepare for the planned lifting of a state of emergency the next morning.
The provincial capital has been under the emergency declaration for eight days since last week’s fierce storm that dumped more than 76 centimetres of snow in a single day.
The city has kept emergency measures in place while staff worked to clear the streets, as have several neighbouring towns, including Mount Pearl, which lifted its own state of emergency on Friday.
As communities in the region gradually work their way back to normal operations, many municipal politicians say they are seeking financial assistance for million of dollars from storm-related costs, including damages, worker overtime and extra fuel for snow-clearing equipment.
St. John’s Mayor Danny Breen said this week he would be seeking assistance from the provincial and federal governments to help cover the cost of the cleanup and to support workers who lost pay during the shutdown, though the town has not yet put a price tag on the operation.
North of St. John’s in the historic community of Bonavista, Mayor John Norman said the storm surge and waves – some of them up to nine metres high – had knocked down already deteriorating seawalls, “crucially important” infrastructure protecting aging homes along the coast.
The town is still working on cost estimates, but Mr. Norman said he’s “quite certain” Bonavista has taken on at least $1-million in damage.
It’s a major issue the community has been facing for years, Mr. Norman said, noting that funding options for replacing the seawalls was the main topic of discussion at a meeting with Bonavista’s MP just two days before the blizzard.
A week after the storm, Mr. Norman said the need for funding has become urgent. He expects the infrastructure will not withstand another major storm without far more severe and costly damages to homes, roads and water and sewer lines underneath.
“We’re now in an emergency situation,” Mr. Norman said by phone Friday.
After witnessing increasingly severe storms over the past few years, Mr. Norman said he has “no doubt” his community is being affected by climate change and infrastructure needs to be adapted accordingly.
“There’s no possible way anyone in Newfoundland these days can deny that the climate is more volatile. Winter storms, summer storms, fall hurricanes, everything is stronger in the last 15 or 20 years,” he said.
Conception Bay South, another coastal community on the Avalon Peninsula, also saw major damage to infrastructure from the storm surge, as well as doubling its snow-clearing crew.
Mayor Terry French said the surging ocean damaged roads across his community, ripped storm sewers out of the ground and destroyed parts of a central walking trail.
“We’re looking at millions of dollars, if not tens of millions of dollars, to replace some of this – and some of it we’ve got to do right away,” he said. “Obviously, living in Newfoundland and Labrador, we know the wind will blow again.”
For the City of Mount Pearl. which borders St. John’s, Mayor Dave Aker said the biggest costs will come from the extra snow-clearing efforts, including worker overtime, road salt, equipment maintenance and fuel. He said the town has also rented additional dump trucks to move the snow.
“There’s no doubt, it’s going to be a lot of money,” he said, adding it’s too early to know the total cost, but “it’ll be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, for sure.”
In Bay Roberts, about 90 kilometres west of St. John’s, Mayor Philip Wood said he expects the town’s biggest costs will include worker overtime and additional fuel for snow-clearing equipment.
The town still has to assess exact costs, but Mr. Wood said he’s heard of operators working 75 hours this week – essentially double their usual weekly hours.
For the small town with a budget of just $7.5-million, Mr. Wood said spending so much so early in the year would mean cutting funding to other programming later on.
He said the town is hoping to receive some funding if federal assistance is made available to cover costs and potentially invest in a new phone system to communicate with the public during severe events.
“It’s gonna be costly, but it’s not gonna break us,” Mr. Wood said.
Premier Dwight Ball said on Thursday the province would request financial assistance from Ottawa to help recover costs to communities and infrastructure.
About 400 Armed Forces personnel have been in the province this week, responding to hundreds of requests from people unable to dig themselves out of their homes.
Business owners, as well as workers, have also expressed concern about revenue loss during an already slow period of the year.
The Business Development Bank of Canada posted on Twitter this week saying it is “here to help” clients affected by the storm and state of emergency, saying clients should reach out to account managers to discuss options.
Federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair told reporters in Ottawa on Friday morning that the Liberal government would do all it could to help people in the region recover from the storm.
“Newfoundlanders can count on our support,” Mr. Blair said.
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