Nestled on the banks of the St. Lawrence River, Debra McCord and Bill Cody are taking drastic measures to protect their piece of paradise from encroaching waters.
The couple has lived in their quaint waterfront home since 2004, but the stress in recent years from rising water levels prompted them to elevate the 137-year-old structure 12 feet into the air.
The Victorian home was built in 1882 and has seen water levels rise and fall over the decades. But the water in their crawlspace got so close to hitting the electrical infrastructure this summer they felt like they had no other choice but to spend part of their life savings on making sure it never happens again.
“This is our home. If we didn’t do it, we would lose it all,” McCord said.
“This is affecting my life. It’s affecting my health. It’s affecting my stress levels. It’s affecting my trust in government.”
High water levels, which she and many other property owners blame on mismanagement by the International Joint Commission (IJC) under plan 2014, were especially bad in 2017 and 2019. Currently the water is sitting about 18 inches higher than it would normally be at this time of year, and next year the water is expected to be even higher, McCord said.
The couple had to keep three pumps running this summer to keep the water away from hitting critical infrastructure. Knowing they couldn’t tolerate the stress of another year of flooding, they made the decision to elevate the house, even though they knew it would be a significant financial undertaking.
It was their only option, she said. They couldn’t sell – as a local real estate agent, McCord knows all about full disclosure. She couldn’t in good conscience sell the home knowing water levels for 2020 are expected to be even higher than they were this year.
The home was detached from the foundation and jacked up over the course of three days. Now, a construction crew is working on pouring the footings before laying a foundation and building an eight-foot wall at the base of the house.
They’ve had to pay for the expenditure out of their own pocket; McCord said insurance wouldn’t help and her calls to the government have fallen on deaf ears.
They also had to pay “multiple thousands of dollars” to the municipality, conservation authority and health units to get permission to safeguard their home from what is predicted to be an “even more catastrophic flooding” next spring, she said.
She also said since it is considered a rebuild, the assessment of the home will increase, thus upping their property taxes.
“We’re entirely on our own,” she said.
“I couldn’t really afford it, but I couldn’t afford not to do it.”
She feels the government has failed them and every property owner along the river with its inaction on this issue.
She is calling on anybody to listen to her and her neighbours. She sent a letter to the prime minister, the local MP and MPP, and every mayor in Leeds and Grenville along the Seaway. She got a thank you from two mayors, but nobody else has followed up on her letters or her concerns.
“It’s indicative of the issue itself. Nobody cares.”
That’s all she’s looking for, she said: Someone to hear their concerns and see if anything can be done.
She wants the IJC to listen to the pleas of those experiencing the impact of the high water and to adjust the water management plan accordingly.
Last week, the international body said it plans to “investigate options” that could be taken now to reduce water levels before next spring and said it hopes to expedite its review process to see if there is anything that can be done.