Petitcodiac River to get new bridge, create free flow for fish, surfers

The Petitcodiac River's causeway gates are pictured in this 2014 file photo. The provincial and federal governments announced Friday, Dec. 16, 2016 that a four-lane bridge will be built to replace a section of the causeway. Shelley Steeves/Global News

A muddy, silt-clogged New Brunswick river best known for a unique tidal bore that attracts surfers from around the world is being brought back to life.

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For nearly 50 years the flow of the Petitcodiac River has been choked by a causeway – blocking a habitat for fish to spawn, and stifling the famous tidal bore.

But the provincial and federal governments say that will change with a $61.6 million project announced Friday replacing a 250-metre section of the causeway with a four-lane bridge connecting Moncton and Riverview.

“It is an historic announcement for the river and the region,” said Daniel LeBlanc, the original Petitcodiac Riverkeeper, a spokesman on river restoration for environmental groups.

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Surfers from around the world have been riding the tidal bore on the Petitcodiac River since gates in the causeway were opened in 2010.

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The bore, a wave which moves upriver at high tide, ranges from one to two metres in height and travels at speeds up to 13 kilometres per hour.

“There’s no doubt that we’re going to have more people come to see the tidal bore. There’s going to be more people coming to want to surf the Petitcodiac River,” Premier Brian Gallant said as he made the announcement in Moncton along with Fisheries and Oceans Minister Dominic LeBlanc.

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“There’s going to be more people that are just going to want to come see and walk the trails next to the Petitcodiac River.”

The causeway has been a point of contention with environmentalists, politicians and Moncton area residents since construction on it began in 1966. It was completed two years later.

The structure created a lake, but halted the natural tidal flow of the river upstream.

“The bridge construction will restore the channel fairly closely to where it was previously in the centre of the river, and the river itself will be able to restore itself to as close as possible to what it was 50 years ago,” Daniel LeBlanc said.

Green Leader David Coon said it’s probably the third river that has been restored in North America, and the first of any significant size in Canada.

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“That river has impacts all the way down the Eastern Seaboard from an ecological perspective, and it is certainly important to the Bay of Fundy as well. It’s a great thing … to see a river of that importance restored,” he said.

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The provincial government is contributing $32.9 million to the project. The federal government will provide the remaining $28.7 million.

“It’s historic because it’s something we all have talked about for quite some time, knowing that we had to address a problem that was created decades ago,” Gallant said.

He said work is expected to begin in the spring and take four to five years to complete.

Matt Abbott of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick said he expects the river will be able to recover.

“With the first phase of the restoration – the opening of the gates – we saw really impressive natural activity bounce right back from that. I think we’ll see more from the Petitcodiac going forward with the removal of the causeway and the building of the bridge. It really is exciting,” he said.

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The Petitcodiac is also known for its chocolate-brown colour that results from sediment stirred up by the tides.

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Ernie Steeves, the Tory MLA for Moncton Northwest, said the colour may not be the best but it’s still a beautiful, winding river and he’s glad it’s being restored.

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