The causeway gates holding back the Petitcodiac River from Coverdale to Moncton, N.B., opened last week, allowing the waters to flow freely for the first time since the land bridge was constructed in 1968. About 500 people gathered to watch, and while many cheered, dozens were left fuming. “It will become a muddy tidal river that won’t be used for recreation,” says Kevin Campbell, a member of the Lake Petitcodiac Preservation Association.
The causeway was originally built to control flooding and link Moncton and Riverview, N.B. It resulted in the creation of a large head pond, around which a community sprung up. But, says Tim Van Hinte, a spokesperson for Petitcodiac Riverkeeper, “the river was dying because of the causeway.” The water forced upstream twice a day by the Bay of Fundy’s powerful tides was interrupted, depositing tonnes of silt along the shore, choking what was originally a mile-wide river to 100 m. It interrupted migration and dramatically reduced the populations of Atlantic salmon, shad and seven other kinds of fish.
After years of pressure from environmentalists, the province announced a $68-million plan to replace the causeway with a bridge. But many homeowners living near the head pond are worried about reduced property values and increased pollution from a sewage treatment plant downstream. And the Lake Petitcodiac Preservation Association says the project will cost more than double what the government claims. So Campbell’s organization and the Alma Fishermen’s
Association are seeking an injunction to close the gates again. But the lawsuits haven’t fazed the Petitcodiac Riverkeeper, an organization fighting to restore the river. “If they weren’t allowed to open the gates they wouldn’t have,” says Van Hinte. “I’m not a lawyer, but I’m not concerned.”