11/22/2016 16:13 EST | Updated 11/23/2017 00:12 EST

Homeowners watch property fall into the sea

A destructive mix of high tides and surging seas last Wednesday ripped away nearly ten metres of land from some coastal properties on Quebec's North Shore.

In the municipality of Pointe-Lebel, 344 kilometres northwest of Quebec City, Hélène Arsenault used to have an expansive backyard, with a set of stairs that led down to the beach.

Now, the waves have nibbled that yard away to nearly nothing, and her cottage sits perched precariously, just metres from a sudden drop-off to the sand.

"When you look at the land, you say to yourself it's impossible the water won't reach the cottage," she said.  

A Public Security Ministry official gave her the same grim assessment, telling her, "'Wait until the next high tide. It will rise up to the cottage,'" she said.

Looming threat to homeowners

"Erosion is a big problem for us. All the other coastal communities have the same problem," said Pointe-Lebel Mayor Normand Morin.

The North Shore, Lower Saint-Lawrence, Gaspé Peninsula and Magdalen Islands are particularly affected, according the Public Security Ministry's website.

But solutions are scarce.

Pointe-Lebel sits in the middle of an protected aquatic reserve. The Environment Ministry has blocked efforts to discourage erosion, fining the municipality $5,000 last spring for placing protective boulders along the coastline without authorization.

"They don't want rockfill, but they don't bring us any other solutions," the mayor said.

Moving the boulders into place is also costly. The neighbouring municipality of Ragueneau spent $14 million installing rockfill along nine kilometres of its coast.

Next June, a device called Rolo-Dune will to be tested in the Pointe-Lebel area. The system of plastic tubes, packed with vegetation, is supposed to protect the shoreline by encouraging the build-up of sand.

But after losing her latest battle with the sea, Hélène Arsenault is not optimistic. Fallen trees and their exposed, dangling roots near her home show just how forcefully the land was ripped away.

"I never thought I would see this in my life," she said.