Staff at Victoria Park in Truro, N.S., would normally be laid off at this time of year. But they’re busy cleaning up the damage caused by post-tropical storm Fiona more than three months ago.
The powerful winds toppled towering hemlocks, causing extensive damage to the park’s 1,200 hectares of woods and walking trails near the centre of town. Many sections remain off limits as a private contractor cuts down and hauls off the downed and damaged trees.
Mayor Bill Mills said progress was sometimes slow because of the steep terrain, but three months of steady work is bearing fruit.
“I would say that we’re a little bit over half, maybe two-thirds [done],” said Mills. “That might be a stretch, but we’ve made some great progress.”
What can be salvaged is being sent to mills to be turned into building material, according to the mayor.
“We’ve had about 20 tandem truckloads of hemlocks taken out of the park and that wood is for sale,” said Mills, adding that some of the remaining wood will be used to build rails, park benches or picnic tables.
While the town was recovering some of its remediation costs, he said at last count, the estimated price tag was already $230,000 and counting.
“I think it would be fair to say it’s going to be probably well over half a million dollars,” said Mills. “That’s speculation right now. But based on the damage that’s up there, it might even go higher.”
Around 60 kilometres northeast, the Municipality of Pictou County has already spent about $600,000 clearing the damage caused by Fiona. Warden Robert Parker estimated the bill would likely grow to $750,000 or more.
“[A] big part of our recreation in rural Pictou County is our trail system and it was terribly badly damaged,” said Parker. “And so there’s going to be requests coming from those trails associations, you know, for hundreds of thousands of dollars probably, too.”
“So it doesn’t end, you know, even at [$750,000] or a million, it doesn’t end there.”
Parker said he and others in the region are also worried about damage to private woodlots in the municipality.
“Acres and acres” of woodland has been flattened, said Parker.
“It will be generations … before those will come back,” he said. “There’s a tremendous amount of devastation that will never get cleaned up.”
Parker is concerned all the dead wood might be fuel for a forest fire in the coming years.
Truro and Pictou County are both eager to receive the aid promised by the federal government in Fiona’s aftermath.
“We’re going to be applying for as much as we can possibly get,” said Parker.
Mills is hoping the money flows faster than it did in 2003 when another fall hurricane cut a swath of destruction across the province.
“I know that for expenses incurred from Hurricane Juan, five, six years is the timeline for when we get that money back to support our budgets and support expenses,” said Mills.
“Our budget is close to $26 million a year now, and so you take a half-a-million-dollars expense like that — that might require a couple of streets not being rebuilt in the upcoming construction season.”
The same goes for projects in Pictou County.
“Those costs will keep on coming, and so it probably will mean that some other projects will have to be put off for a year or two,” said Parker.