C-Change project measures rising sea levels for Gibsons

By 2100, Gibsons Harbour could be hit by more than $5 million in property damages and loss due to ocean-related climate change, according to data collected in a major research study.

The C-Change project, based out of the University of Ottawa, is studying the impact of rising ocean levels on Gibsons and three other coastal Canadian communities, as well as four in the Caribbean.

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"What you have is something that virtually no other community in Canada now has available to it," Ralph Matthews, professor of sociology at UBC and one of five Canadian academics involved in the project, told Gibsons council on Feb. 19. "You have an interactive model to see, based on your community and the knowledge for this region, what exactly the issues will be for climate change and rising oceans."

Presented by graduate student Nathan Vadeboncoeur, the initial findings measured the physical impact on properties from rising sea levels, based on the latest science.

Projecting a one-metre estimated rise in sea level by 2100, researchers added storm surge effects to determine total potential impact at high tide.

"In Gibsons, we're fairly fortunate that it's protected and a little out of the way of the main Strait of Georgia, and so the wave effects will be a lot less than a community like Sechelt," Vadeboncoeur said. "Generally the harbour is the only part of Gibsons that will see a discernible impact."

In current dollars, the value of all land exposed to sea level rise is about $20 million under the projections, but total loss and damage was estimated at only $4.3 million in private property and about $1 million in public property.

Factoring in the cost of retrofits to the Town sewer line and harbour breakwater, "we're looking at something on the order of $10 million in potential damages and retrofits associated with sea level rise in the Town of Gibsons -and this is over 80 or 90 years," Vadeboncoeur said.

Also presented was a residents' survey that found 86 per cent of respondents were in support of spending tax dollars to address climate change impacts, but sea level rise and storm surge were ranked the lowest among 13 potential hazards. Highest ranked was drinking water contamination.

Coun. Gerry Tretick noted the findings could cause serious concern for some landowners about their property values and home insurance rates.

"Because all of this is sort of speculative on a scientific basis, I'm just wondering how careful we have to be about what we say and do," Tretick said.

The study's findings will be based on "what reputable science suggests will be the increased level of ocean rise for this area," Matthews replied. "For Gibsons it is less a problem for individual homeowners, as there are not that many living in very low-lying areas, but you have a great deal of water and sewage infrastructure by the harbour. Some of that is in an area which reasonable assumptions suggest could be threatened.

"It's not something that's going to happen tomorrow, but it's something that this council and its successors should start to consider."

Researchers are also studying the Lower Sunshine Coast as a whole and will present those findings later in the year. Preliminary data has been shared with emergency personnel from the region, with Davis Bay flagged as a potential high-impact area.

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