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Newfoundland seeking financial help as municipalities recover from blizzard

Contractors clear snow from the upper deck of a parking lot in St. John’s on Tuesday, January 21, 2020. The state of emergency ordered by the City of St. John's continues for a fifth day, leaving most businesses closed and most vehicles off the roads in the aftermath of the major winter storm that hit the Newfoundland and Labrador capital. The city has allowed grocery and convenience stores to open for limited hours to let residents restock their food supply.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
January 24, 2020 - 11:30 AM

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - One week after a record-breaking blizzard battered eastern Newfoundland, businesses in St. John's were permitted to call in staff Friday to prepare for the expected 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 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 sea walls, "crucially important" infrastructure protecting aging homes along the coast.

The town is still working on cost estimates, but 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, Norman said, noting funding options for replacing the sea walls was the main topic of discussion at a meeting with Bonavista's MP just two days before the blizzard.

A week after the storm, 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.

"It's gone from exploring funding and options to, 'We need support in the next number of months, not the next number of years,'" Norman said by phone Friday. "We're now in an emergency situation."

Norman said waves were hitting the roof of his three-story beachside house during the height the storm, something he'd never experienced before.

After witnessing increasingly severe storms over the last few years, 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 that 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.

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 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, 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," Wood said.

Premier Dwight Ball said 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.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair told reporters in Ottawa on Friday morning that the federal government would do all it could to help people in the region recover from the storm.

"Newfoundlanders can count on our support," said Blair.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 24, 2020.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2020
The Canadian Press

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