Even as Skinners Pond fishermen were loading their boats with lobster gear for the Aug. 8 opening of the fall fishery, a dredger was clearing sand from the channel so the boats would have safe passage.
That was cutting it close, said Bobby Morrissey, Member of Parliament for Egmont.
On Friday, Morrissey suggested it wouldn’t have to come to that if the provincial government were not so rigid with its ban on sand mining.
In fact, Morrissey believes Skinners Pond and West Point are two harbours in particular that would benefit from strategic sand removal from the beach prior to it building up and clogging the harbours’ entrances.
But Greg Wilson, Manager of the Environmental Land Management Section of the P.E.I. Department of Environment, Water and Climate Change, says the sand mining moratorium was put in place in 2009 for a good reason.
“All the new studies on climate change, the rise in sea levels that is going to come, and the increased erosion, (say) the best way to stop erosion is to keep sand on the beach, and the best way to do that is to make sure it gets around those ports, to make sure it nourishes the beaches on the other side. That was the main reason (the moratorium) was brought in,” Wilson said.
“What we found in the studies that concerned us way back when, and why we closed (sand mining), was, when the sand was moving and it was intercepted by a port, it would basically starve the beach,” he said. In most cases, he said, the sand drifts from west to east, so beaches to the east of the harbours were being starved of sand by sand mining and by the sand accumulating at the ports.
Morrissey said it makes little sense to keep moving harbour infrastructure further and further out to sea when some sand removal could ease problems.
He said he wouldn’t like to see the hands of time turned back to when large-scale sand mining occurred, but he feels with strategic sand removal upstream in the drift pattern there would be fewer issues with sand interfering with fishing vessels’ passage.
The sand gets removed anyway, he reasons, through dredging.
Wilson said the federal government can dredge all the sand it wants out of the channels as long as they pump it out to sea or further up the shore. It’s when the sand is removed and trucked away that the province takes issue.
Wilson suggested issues around dredging could be resolved with more federal money for dredging projects.
That suggestion was timely when provincial Communities and Fisheries Minister Jamie Fox issued a statement on Friday calling for increased federal investment in Island wharves and harbours, and for a review of the Small Craft Harbours program.
Wilson is not wading into the debate on whether there is a difference between sand mining and dredging, but he did point out that Small Craft Harbours is getting a study off the ground in the North Lake area to determine how much sand can be removed from beaches without causing environmental issues, and he said the province is providing input on the type of information it needs.
“Nobody knows what that magic number would be; what’s the amount you could take out that wouldn’t cause any damage or wouldn’t cause any concern,” Wilson said. “So the provincial side of that is, ‘let’s take the minimal amount,’ or ‘let’s not take any.’”
As for the timing of the sand removal at Skinners Pond, Wilson said that was a federal project and, therefore, federal responsibility to get the infrastructure in place in time.