03/25/2013 03:32 EDT | Updated 05/25/2013 05:12 EDT

Mayor wants to apply to feds, province for funding to fix deteriorating seawall

HALIFAX - The mayor of Cape Breton Regional Municipality wants to request funding from two levels of government to repair a deteriorating seawall in Gabarus, but residents of the tiny village say a temporary fix will not ward off the pounding Atlantic Ocean for long.

Cecil Clarke says he will recommend at a meeting on April 9 that regional council begin the process of applying for about $1.2 million worth of short-term repairs for the 70-year-old structure in Gabarus.

The applications would be made to Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield's office and the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources, Clarke said on Monday.

He said those departments would decide if there is an appropriate program that can provide funding, as neither the provincial or federal governments accept responsibility for the seawall.

Clarke said the municipality cannot afford to repair the seawall.

"This is really about, not just economic, but fundamental community stability," Clarke said in an interview from Sydney. "We just want to try to be a supportive entity, but we as a municipal unit just don't have those dollars."

The municipality would be willing to take on contracting and implementing the repairs, he said.

Clarke said the request comes after he met with Ashfield, Liberal MP Rodger Cuzner and Alfie MacLeod, a Progressive Conservative member of the legislature.

In December, the federal government — which built the 400-metre structure in the 1940s — concluded it is not responsible for the wall, saying it sits almost entirely on Nova Scotia-owned land and is therefore a provincial and municipal responsibility.

Meanwhile, Nova Scotia has argued that the seawall is federally owned and it is Ottawa's responsibility to fix it.

On Monday, a spokesman for Fisheries said in an email that its previous position regarding Gabarus still stands and that it is not responsible for the wall.

Tim Menk, a resident of the 300-year-old fishing village, said the mayor's efforts are encouraging but the community doesn't want a short-term fix to negate a long-term one.

"We have grave concerns that the amount of money that might be devoted here might be inadequate to the task," Menk said from his home in Gabarus. "There's concerns on the part of the community that the long-term interests will be traded off.

"But we'd rather something happen than nothing."

Last summer, the provincial government issued a report that said the situation in Gabarus was "urgent" and recommended three options for long-term fixes, all of which involve replacing the wall and cost anywhere from $4.3 million to $5.3 million.

Residents have been on edge since Friday, when high winds and pounding surf further twisted the structure in several places and blasted some planks and beams onto the beach.

Menk, a member of a group called the Friends of Gabarus, said a community meeting has been called for Thursday to talk about filing a complaint with the public sector integrity commissioner over the Fisheries Department's denial of ownership.

About 70 people live in Gabarus year-round, but that number can triple in the summer.