March 26, 2002

The Moncton Times and Transcript

River study behind schedule, but ‘progressing’
by Tammy Scott-Wallace

The kickoff to an environmental impact assessment for the Petitcodiac River causeway is one step closer, with many more to go. The federal and provincial governments have come up with a harmonized approach to progress with the study, and while it’s late coming, both levels of government see it as a workable process.

Dr. Hélène Dupuis, head of evaluation, mitigation and special projects for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, said the complexity of the largest EIA ever undertaken jointly by the provincial and federal governments, has been cause for the delay. “Things are progressing. It’s behind schedule, but we’re happy it’s moving forward,” she said. “A lot of discussion was necessary. We wanted to make sure each step is done, we don’t want to cut corners.” The procedure takes on much more of the specifics detailed in the provincial Environmental Impact Assessment criteria. That doesn’t mean, however, the federal government and the way it conducts environmental assessments will play second fiddle. “One step we’d like to see as soon as possible is a description of the process,” said Dupuis. “It would help us in the process if we could see the project description before it’s registered in order for us to determine our role. She said until the project description is released, it is unclear what federal players need to be involved in the process, naming DFO, ** Environment Canada, Health Canada and Natural Resources as a few possibilities. Perry Haines, director of project assessment for the EIA branch of the Department of Environment and Local Government, explained the Department of Supply and Services has been named the proponent for the study and will “shortly” compile documents federal officials are looking for. His department said last year that by the fall of 2004, the EIA process would be complete and recommendations made on whether or not the causeway gates should be replaced with a partial bridge, full bridge span, or remain with gates that open. Haines said yesterday that the EIA is still estimated to be a three- year process from start to finish, however, when asked the target date for completion, he stretched the earlier deadline of fall 2004 to be possibly closer to the spring of 2005. Dupuis was a little less committed to any date. “It will depend on what needs to be done,” she said. “The EIA may take two years to carry out, it may take less, it may take significantly more. We don’t know at this point.” The Petitcodiac Riverkeeper is pointing a finger directly at Premier Bernard Lord and MP Claudette Bradshaw for not insisting that more progress was made to this point on the proposed EIA. Daniel LeBlanc fears that now, with so much work left to do before the assessment on the river’s causeway can begin, scientists will lose out on a key study period. “Anyone who had faith that progress on this EIA would have been made at this point will be extremely disappointed,” he said. “This is really about a lack of attention and a lack of commitment to the file. There is absolutely no excuse for what’s happening here.”

Federal and provincial officials outlined to the media yesterday the harmonized process they’ve come up with by blending guidelines from both the provincial Environmental Impact Assessment criteria and the federal Canadian Environmental Assessment. This process will be revealed today in Moncton at Wedgewood Hall, and tomorrow at Riverview’s Kinsmen Centre. Before an EIA can be announced there has to be a written description of what a study on the causeway would entail, as well as the terms of reference. This documentation is being drafted by the province and, when completed, will require the approval of the federal government before any steps can be taken towards studying the Petitcodiac River causeway. Once the roles of both levels of government are secured, it will be registered by the provincial Department of the Environment and Local Government, along with comments on the harmonized process which will be accepted until April. 19. It will be at least the end of April before Minster Kim Jardine determines if a full EIA is needed. Her decision must be made before any work on the actual project begins. “The minister has said it’s expected to be a full EIA, but officially (all steps) have to go through the process,” Haines said. Only after the minister’s decision, can a technical review committee made up of federal and provincial representatives develop guidelines for the study to be presented for public comment within two months of the EIA’s announcement. As well, a consultant will be hired to work on methodology. Leading up to the final approval of the EIA, there will be many opportunities for public input. “We were told by government they would work out these details in 2001, now we see absolutely nothing has been discussed. They don’t even have a project, not even basic description of what they want to do,” LeBlanc said. “Either there is incompetence taking place at both the federal and provincial levels, or just bad faith. “It is unclear how this EIA is going to take shape. This is four months after the province announced the EIA, and they still have no idea what the EIA is about or what they want to do. “There is some explaining to be done, and it should come from Premier Bernard Lord or Claudette Bradshaw. There has been incredible negligence here.” While government officials during the process announcement wouldn’t offer specific timelines for the project, LeBlanc said given the steps that have to be taken before Jardine can make an announcement, it’s unlikely scientists will be prepared to take full advantage of the river’s spring freshet for studying purposes.

“It is clear that should we follow this process, there will be no data measurements taking place this spring and perhaps not until the late summer of 2002,” he said, explaining the April freshet and fish migration period is crucial to the study of the river’s activity. “This is all in the hands of the province,” he added. “I’m worried that I’ll still be voicing the same concerns that little has been achieved six months from now, or a year from now. “I do know that if people were planning to hear about the EIA’s progress at the public meetings, they’ll be very disappointed.” The Department of Supply and Services has been chosen as the proponent for the study because it’s an independent, third party provincial agency, Haines said.