View from the West:  Taken from the Winnipeg Free Press February 10th, 2011


How to Destroy an Ancient Sand Beach

It appears that in Manitoba, the various levels of government, municipal and provincial, currently are not equipped to deal with the problems that arise when considering the destruction of a natural public beach to serve private interests.

The current situation at Victoria Beach illustrates this. A small group of 11 cottage owners has offered to pay for an erosion barrier called a “revetment” along the length of the beach, some 396 metres. They feel this will provide protection to their property line and property values. It entails transferring public land to their use and the placing of some 4,645 square metres of rock and gravel on the public beach, projecting out 12 to 13.7 metres from the base of the sand cliff.

Should the barrier be built, about six to nine metres of sand will remain in front of a sloping rock wall. That assumes average lake levels. On high water days, there will be no beach.

Furthermore, erosion will continue in front of the structure at an intensified rate, so any remaining sand will be washed away, leaving only rock and silt. This is clearly stated in all the scientific literature on erosion and is summarized in the Lake Winnipeg Shoreline Management Handbook (p.33), “Any beach in front of an armoured shoreline will normally diminish in width as the near shore profile erodes and the beach will eventually disappear.”

Municipalities and their elected officials do not have the resources to make informed judgments on complex environmental issues. It appears, however, if members of a municipal council choose to take actions that will destroy a community’s beaches, there is no way for the provincial government to restrain them.

While I have spoken to intelligent and sympathetic individuals in various government ministries and with the Shoreline Erosion Technical Committee, which appears to have access to a greater fund of knowledge on environmental issues, it appears no government department considers itself able to intervene and stop this process.

The one organization that has been set up to examine erosion matters is SETC. It appears its mandate and primary function is to assess the design and effectiveness of erosion barriers at preventing erosion behind them, while ignoring the destruction of the shoreline in front of them, the consequences to the condition of the beach and the effect on adjacent beaches.

Even within its narrow mandate, it can only make recommendations to municipalities about the proposals before it, which can be ignored. It cannot suggest alternative strategies that might provide protection to cottage owners while protecting a beach.

It has no regulatory power. The fact the proposal currently before it is called “Shoreline Protection Project King Edward and Alexander (sic) Beaches” but actually involves the destruction of the sand shoreline of an entire beach illustrates the nature of the problem.

It is time for the provincial government to lay down clear, enforceable mandates and guidelines, as have Ontario and a number of American states, so as to assure the survival of our public sand beaches. They are natural treasures and should be preserved for our use and future generations of Manitobans. Once gone, they are gone forever.

Stuart Guzda retired as a Quebec college teacher who returned to Manitoba to live full time at Victoria Beach


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