March 5, 2001

Moncton Times and Transcript

Petitcodiac River issue fractures council
by Craig Babstock

Moncton city councillor Steven Boyce wants city hall to take a stand on the fate of the Petitcodiac River but his proposed resolution will face resistance from a council fractured by the issue.

Council meets tonight at 6 p.m. for a regular public meeting and one of the items on the agenda is a familiar one.

Last October, Boyce brought forward a resolution asking councillors to take a stand on whether or not they supported opening the causeway and restoring the river.

After a brief, but spirited discussion, it was tabled because some councillors said they wanted to wait and see what federally-appointed researcher Eugene Niles recommended for the river in his study. Boyce, Mayor Brian Murphy and Coun. Yvon Goguen voted against the motion to table.

Boyce says bringing this issue back to council is not just his idea.

“It comes by request,” he says. “I obviously don’t have a problem with it coming back, but it’s at the request of constituents in my ward.”

He says the request didn’t come from a lot of residents, but it did come from people who represent a large group of residents.

Other factors also affected the timing.

“Dieppe recently passed it and Moncton is one of the only communities that hasn’t made a decision on it,” he says.

There’s also the municipal elections in May.

“I’m not in this because an election is coming up,” Boyce says. “It’s the right thing to do. Also, I may not be there after the election, so let’s see something done.”

Niles released the first draft of his report a few weeks ago and Boyce says since some members of council were waiting for Niles’ input to make a decision, there’s nothing holding things up anymore.

“We should now be in a position to voice our opinion,” he says.

Niles’ draft report looked at the best ways to restore fish passage to the river. He wrote that an environmental impact assessment will be required before any steps are taken, but suggests the best option — with the least costand risk — is to open the gates when the fish are at peak migration. If that doesn’t allow the fish to travel upstream, he suggests opening the gates permanently. If that doesn’t work, he suggests replacing a span of the causeway with a bridge.

If the impact assessment shows any of those options could be harmful, they won’t be pursued. A final draft will go to the Fisheries Minister and he will make a decision on the matter.

But Boyce says council doesn’t need the minister’s input to let the public know how it feels.

“I hate to hear people saying let’s wait for the minister to tell us what to do,” he says. “Since when do we wait for the province or federal government to tell us what to think? We weren’t elected to bury our heads in the sand. Anyone who says we don’t have enough information . . . come on.”

Boyce says he realizes some of his colleagues on council won’t back his resolution.

“I’m certain the councillors who have residents living along the lake would have pressure on them and how they vote, but that’s democracy,” he says.

Merrill Henderson is a councillor for Ward 2 and one of the people to whom Boyce is referring. But he says the idea that his constituents are pressuring him in any way is ludicrous. He says he hasn’t spoken to any constituent who’s tried to influence him to keep the causeway intact.

“I have gotten calls from the other side from someone who was very rude, saying I was a member of the Lake Petitcodiac Preservation Association,” says Henderson.

He says there’s no question the causeway was an environmental disaster when it was built in the 1960s, but now is not the time to say open the gates and see what happens.’

The last time council met with Niles, Henderson says they were told he hadn’t picked an option. He says he’ll put his support behind whatever Niles recommends in his final report.

“Steven Boyce wasn’t even interested enough to show up at that meeting,” says Henderson. “He’s looking to make some news items for himself.” Henderson says he doesn’t know what the outcome of tonight’s meeting will be, but he knows how some councillors feel about it.

“We’re going to resist this being lifted from the table,” he says.

He’s not alone in questioning Boyce’s motives in bringing back this resolution. Other rumblings from city hall are questioning the role the coming election is playing in seeing the Petitcodiac issue again brought to the forefront. There are also objections to the resolution being “spoon-fed” by the Riverkeepers and questions of why council should support any decision regarding the river when they don’t have a say in what happens to it.

That may be the case, but Moncton is the only community with a stake in the river that hasn’t taken a stand. The nine other communities have made a decision, with seven supporting restoration and two opposing it.

But Henderson says there’s a reason for that.

“Most of the other communities don’t have as much to lose or gain as we have,” he says. He says the main problem with opening the river could be erosion on the banks of the old dump, which could result in an environmental nightmare.

“The Environmental Bureau of Investigation is already threatening to sue us,” he says, referring to the controversy over leachate seeping out of the dump and into the river, which is being investigated by Environment Canada. “That won’t be on the federal or provincial governments, that’s on us.”

Riverkeeper Daniel LeBlanc says it’s time for Moncton to make a decision.

“The city has the right to come to their own vision for the river, like all the communities before them have done,” he says. “But Moncton is divided within the council.”

LeBlanc says the city has everything to gain by supporting the restoration, but he doesn’t know if that’s enough to force them to make a decision.

“I really don’t know what will happen,” he says. “When it comes to these issues in Moncton, it’s anybody’s guess.”