Residents say the new stone seawall surrounding a summer home property at Point Deroche prevents access to the beach and may cause long-term erosion to the waterfront. The provincial government says the wall occupies the same footprint as the location's former seawall. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

CAN - A controversial Prince Edward Island development includes a stony seawall. Critics say it threatens the shoreline

Owners of property at Point Deroche argue their new seawall mitigates erosion

A controversial construction project on the coast of Prince Edward Island has been the subject of residents' ire for months, thanks to a large stone seawall that critics say severely restricts access to the public beach.

"People who used to walk that beach, well, they can't walk it.... You'd have to crawl up over armour stone to be able to walk that stretch of beach," resident Joan Diamond told CBC's Janna Graham.

Diamond drew up a petition, signed by more than 2,000 Islanders, that calls on the provincial government to halt construction of the seawall and have it removed completely. It surrounds a new vacation home on the Island's north shore at Point Deroche.

The property's owners, Toronto couple Jesse and Julie Rasch, have a website of their own, where they have spoken out on what is described as misinformation about the project, arguing it's "vastly safer to walk around than the old seawall."

There's more at stake beyond the beach's walkability: P.E.I. is slowly eroding, caused in part by high winds and rising sea levels spurred on by climate change — and most recently a battering by post-tropical storm Fiona.

Bryson Guptill, a hiking enthusiast and founder of the Island Walk hiking trail, said that over the last 20 or more years — long before the current barrier's construction — you could actually measure the shrinking of the sandy beaches next to the property due to erosion.

"Because of all the erosion, it had actually become much closer to the ocean than it used to be," he said.

"The Island is more vulnerable than any other province. Its shoreline is more vulnerable. And we expect the governments, whoever they are, to respect public trust," said Guptill, who is also a former senior policy adviser for the federal and P.E.I. governments. "The public trust has been broken here."

Point Deroche was once the site of a farmhouse and several other buildings. They have since been demolished to make way for a "seasonal residential cottage" comprising four structures totalling 6,740 square feet, as well as a separate 883-square-foot bunkie further away from the coast.

The old house had a seawall, too. But critics say the new one makes it more difficult for residents to traverse the public portions of the beach.

In a statement, the P.E.I. government told CBC News that the new seawall is on the same footprint as the old farmhouse's seawall.

Property owners dispute critics' arguments

"It is regrettable to see the politicization of our cottage development," the Rasch family told CBC News in an emailed statement.

"Our work has been lawfully approved, and it will be respectfully seen through to completion. We love P.E.I., and would be pleased if the discussions spurred by our cottage lead to changes that Islanders feel best serve all the stakeholders involved in permitting shorefront property development."

"There are still people who believe the beach has been blocked by our work; this lie was repeated often in recent weeks, and we don't expect everyone to embrace the truth," Jesse Rasch said in a separate email.

"The new shoreline system modestly improves beach access, and significantly improves safety and sight lines, for the infrequent public visitors to this remote area," the Rasches said.

On their website, they argue that their seawall "likely ... mitigated damage" to the coast by Fiona last September. But government officials, including P.E.I. Environment Minister Steven Myers, have suggested the opposite.

"There's nothing that would protect the adjacent shoreline. I think it's part of the crux of the Point Deroche argument, is if you look at the pictures post-Fiona, it's really accelerated the erosion next to it," Myers said in the provincial legislature last November.

Stop work order issued, then rescinded

The province issued a stop work order on the development in September 2022, according to a Freedom of Information request submitted by Guptill. It cited "significant encroachment on an environmental buffer zone," which is protected by P.E.I.'s Planning Act.

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