October 5, 2001

Moncton Times and Transcript

Province in no hurry to break silt blockage in choked river
by Daniel McHardie

Urgent calls by environmentalists for immediate action to correct silt blockage in the Petitcodiac River are being answered by demands of patience from provincial cabinet ministers and Moncton MLAs. Days after the provincial and federal governments finally agreed to a framework for an environmental impact assessment on replacing part of the causeway with a bridge, the Conservation Council of New Brunswick feared there might not be much of the river to protect if immediate action isn’t taken.

But at this point no plans are being formulated by the provincial government to prevent further siltation of the Petitcodiac River.

Environment and Local Government Minister Kim Jardine said her department would move quickly if there was an emergency situation, but right now that isn’t the case.

“Maybe if something new or some new information or developments could arise in the future. It doesn’t mean we are doing an EIA and we’re going to walk away. I mean we watch this situation every day. There are no plans for tomorrow to bring in plans to fix this particular situation,” Jardine said.

“As I stated before, we need to make sure we know exactly what we are doing before we go in and start going in and tinkering around. So we are going to take this step-by-step approach as the Niles Report suggested we do.”

In the proposed agreement between Ottawa and the New Brunswick government, the province must trigger an environmental impact assessment by proposing a partial bridge span as recommended in the Eugene Niles report which was released earlier this year. But there is no firm commitment as of yet by the province on whether a bridge will be built if it is approved by the upcoming impact assessment.

“This is a three-year approach,” she said. “We’re not just doing a study for the sake of doing a study. But it’s too early to prejudge the results. There are a lot of questions that need to be answered and then we’ll have to look at it.”

Transportation Minister Margaret-Ann Blaney, whose department is responsible for opening and closing of the gates, said the matter is in the jurisdiction of the provincial Department of Environment and federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Business New Brunswick Minister Joan MacAlpine, who is the MLA for Moncton South, said much of the problem of silt in the Petitcodiac this year is due to the dry summer and the sensitive issue cannot be rushed.

“I think it has to do to a certain degree with the type of summer we’ve had. And I think, I’m not an environmentalist, but I believe the dry weather and those circumstances have caused to a certain degree the excess of silt,” MacAlpine said.

“I can’t forecast (what will be done) as not being an expert in that field. I have to wait for the experts’ report to come back and then I believe the right decision, whatever it is, will be made.”

The severe silt problem facing the river couldn’t have been more plainly displayed than on Monday, as Jardine met with federal officials in Ottawa to discuss the Petitcodiac’s environmental assessment, four dolphins were stuck in the mud. While three dolphins escaped the sediment-choked river, one wasn’t as fortunate and died due to the stress.

While tempers can be heated on this volatile issue, Moncton Crescent MLA John Betts said when discussing the future of the Petitcodiac, people have to “think when their heads rather than their hearts.

“The environmental impact assessment is the proper way to go before any measures are taken,” Betts said. “Now if we find to truly restore any kind of flow in the river, it is going to require bridge spans and not pollute the upper areas of the causeway or upper lake area, then we have to address the proper sewage treatment plant and the enhancement of the landfill site. Then we are looking at some major money there, too. The problem isn’t going to go away for $2.9 million.”

Betts said building a bridge span, fixing the landfill site and sewage treatment plant could all total “several hundred million dollars to do it right.”