April 20, 2001

Moncton Times and Transcript

Causeway gates to open for fish migration periods
by Dave Francis

The federal and provincial governments have agreed to increased measures to allow fish passage through the Petitcodiac River causeway gates this summer, as everyone awaits word on when an environmental impact assessment, likely to involve experimental gate openings, is announced.

The current plans for the gates for the coming year indicate that additional gate openings will be undertaken in the spring to facilitate smelt migration, in May and June to allow migration of shad, striped bass and gaspereau, from mid-May to late June for salmon migration, and in the fall for adult salmon migration.

During the bulk of the summer the elevations of the headpond above the causeway are expected to range between five metres (16.25 feet) and 6.1 metres (19.8 feet), and gate openings during the various fish migration periods will normally involve opening a minimum of one gate, and possibly more, for a minimum of four hours prior to expected high tides.

Such measures will allow some flow of salt water into the head pond, which is expected to assist fish in swimming up past the causeway.

In documents related to the agreement reached between the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the provincial transportation department, DFO officials note that “The Department of Fisheries and Oceans preferred operation strategy remains unimpeded saltwater flow in the Petitcodiac River”, and that the gate management plan is an “interim measure” as they await the environmental impact assessment which may eventually determine a final solution to the causeway issue.

Daniel LeBlanc of the Petitcodiac Riverkeeper organization, which supports partial removal of the causeway in efforts to try to restore the river, said yesterday his group welcomes the gate management plan because it again confirms that DFO understands the causeway is impeding fish passage and has contributed to the elimination of some species of fish from the river.

At the same time, LeBlanc said, his group sees these gate openings as “minimal measures” and they remain disappointed that progress on announcing and proceeding with a full environmental impact assessment is not being made.

“Why is there so much enforcement (of Fisheries Act regulations) in some areas and in other jurisdictions there is not,” LeBlanc questioned, pointing out the federal government poured money and labour into enforcing fisheries regulations in Miramichi Bay (related to native lobster fishing in Burnt Church) last fall, but still seems unwilling to deal with the causeway which impedes fish passage in violation of federal regulations.

LeBlanc called the planned gate openings “tinkering” and said it is past time to get on with a full environmental impact assessment before all species of fish are eradicated from the river.

The details of the gate management plan, meanwhile, should not pose any threat to plans by local promoters to hold a hydroplane regatta on the headpond in late July. Big East Promotions has been moving ahead with its plans for a regatta, to be accompanied by a three-day summer festival including a trade show, concerts, and family entertainment.

Some have questioned whether there would be enough water in the headpond in late July to accommodate hydroplanes, and DFO officials have stressed that their mandate is to enhance fish passage, not create conditions adequate for recreational activities. As a result, there were suggestions that a gates management plan might result in there being too little water in the headpond for such races.

Since it is now evident the plan is to keep the headpond elevations at between five metres (16.25 feet) and 6.1 metres (19.8 feet) for the period between late June and late September, those questions may now have been answered.

Maurice Richard, a well-known local expert in the hydroplane industry, told the Times & Transcript yesterday that the 2.5-litre and 5-litre class hydroplanes, which will be raced on the headpond if the planned regatta proceeds, require at most a half-metre (1.5 feet) of water when they are starting up, and almost no water when running full speed.

Bob Boudreau, an engineer with the Department of Transportation, said much of the headpond would have between one and two metres of water (three to six feet) if headpond elevations are kept around the five to six (15 to 19 feet) elevations. The difference is a result of the silt deposits on the bottom of the headpond.

That still doesn’t mean the regatta is guaranteed to proceed, however. Helene Dupuis, a spokesperson with DFO, said yesterday the question of whether the promoters will require a permit is still up in the air, although she and other officials don’t think a permit is required. They are, however, looking into whether the headpond would need to be closed to regular boating traffic for the duration of the event.

LeBlanc, of the Riverkeeper organization, said yesterday it is premature to be planning a regatta at this point, since it is not even clear yet whether the environmental impact assessment, which would likely involve experimental gate openings, is to begin this summer.

Officials with Big East Promotions could not be reached for comment yesterday.