Listen to the August 29, 2007 edition of 'Living at the Barricades' to hear an interview with Daniel LeBlanc, founder of Petitcodiac Riverkeeper.
On Tuesday, August 7, 2007 New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham announced the Province's decision to restore free-flow to the Petitcodiac River, the world's second largest tidal river. Doing so will require removing the Petitcodiac Causeway that is currently in place and replacing it with a 280-metre bridge. This plan will mean 82% restoration of the river within a 10 to 20 year period.
The Petitcodiac River is situated at the far end of the Inner Bay of Fundy. According to National Geographic and Earthwild International, it is one of the most endangered rivers in the world. In 1968, with approval from the federal government, the Province of New Brunswick built a causeway across the Petitcodiac River in Downtown New Brunswick. Since its construction, the Causeway has never met the requirements for a â€œsuitable fishwayâ€ set out by the Department of Fisheries. Prior to 1968, the Petitcodiac was the greatest estuary in the world. Since the construction of the Causeway, the River and the community that surrounds it have suffered.
The River was once a mile wide with a flourishing tidal bore that nourished the headwaters of the Petitcodiac River system before receding back to the ocean. The Petitcodiac is now 80 metres wide with a closed tidal channel. 17 connecting rivers are now destroyed. Independent experts blame the Causeway for the Petitcodiac Salmon's extinction, the reduction of all fish populations in the river, and the endangerment of many other species. As an essential estuary for species of fish that run from the Bay of Fundy to Cape Cod, the obstructive causeway impacts fish up and down the Atlantic coast.
The River's demise had profound consequences on the community. In Moncton, 2/3 of the watershed is now isolated from the estuary. The local fishing industry collapsed. The tidal bore no longer generates tourism. And the community has been divided.
The Causeway also violates Canadian law. Section 20 of the Fisheries Act forbids industry and government from developments that destroy fish habitat. If the law is not enforced to protect Canada's most endangered river, it is doubtful that enforcement will be the norm across the country. Environmental justice in Canada is at a break in the road, or in this case, the river. Petitcodiac River then, is emblematic of the struggle for righting the wrongs of government and industry who continually avoid regulations that are meant to ensure our rights to safely swim, drink, and fish. It is no wonder then that Petitcodiac Riverkeeper emerged as the first Canadian member of the Waterkeeper Alliance.
Petitcodiac Riverkeeper is at the frontlines of the fight to restore full tidal flow. They have engaged public forums and encouraged the government to obey its own laws. In July 2007, Petitcodiac Riverkeeper filed a court order calling on the provincial and federal governments to pursue the options set out in the 2005 Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) that would ensure that the Fisheries Act is respected. What's more, the EIA presents convincing evidence that the River and the once flourishing fish habitats will be regenerate once free-flow is achieved. As of this writing, the federal government has yet to commit the necessary funds to the Petitcodiac restoration, despite its own calls for provincial action over the last 30 years.
Since its inception in 1999, Petitcodiac Riverkeeper has followed a determined vision for restoring the River. Its struggle, in coordination with other Waterkeepers and active community members and citizens is geared toward winning back what they have lost â€“ the health of their waterway. The work that precedes Premier Graham's announcement cannot go unnoticed. It is an inspiration to all citizens who strive to not only protects our air and water, but also to win back polluted areas.