Environmentalists criticized in Mactaquac dam debate

Some people who live near the Mactaquac Hydroelectric Dam think the province's leading environmental group wants to get rid of the 46-year-old facility.

Fredericton-area residents raise concerns over the Conservation Council's tactics

Some people who live near the Mactaquac Hydroelectric Dam think the province's leading environmental group is attempting to create public support for getting rid of the 46-year-old facility.

When NB Power built the Mactaquac dam in 1966, it forced hundreds of local families to move to make way for flooding of the headpond.

The headpond is now home to a provincial park, a marina and many lakeside homes.

Now, former residents of Jewett's Mills fear another upheaval if the dam is decommissioned. The Fredericton-area residents say they worry the headpond might be drained when the dam reaches the end of its working life in 2028.

Larry Jewett, who owns a local marina, said people in the area suspect the environmental group of trying to build public support for decommissioning the dam and draining the Mactaquac headpond.

"This waterway has become part of our livelihoods, our culture. If you can imagine what the basin would look like without water, it would be just a massive restoration project if they ever undertook such a task," he said.

Jewett, who has clashed with the Conservation Council on other matters in the past, said he now thinks the group is trying to build public opinion in favour of getting rid of the dam.

The hydroelectric generating station was built in 1966 and was scheduled to operate for a century. But an ongoing chemical reaction in the concrete of the dam has led to its lifespan being shortened to 67 years, ending in 2030.

The cost is estimated somewhere between $2 billion and $3 billion.

Starting a debate

The future of the Mactaquac dam became a major public issue in 2010 when the plan to sell NB Power to Hydro-Quebec fell apart.

Hydro-Quebec indicated the complexity of upgrading the dam was one of the reasons they gave up on the power deal.

The Conservation Council is denying Jewett’s allegations that it is trying to rally opposition against the dam.

Stephanie Merrill, a spokeswoman for the environmental group, said the Conservation Council is not taking sides in the debate. Instead, Merrill said the group is simply trying to start the discussion over the dam’s future.

"We have to go through a process with our board of directors and this has not even been brought up with our board and we do not have a position on what should happen at [the] Mactaquac dam," Merrill said.

"What we'd like to see is for the public to have a discussion. So it's fantastic that this is coming up."

NB Power doesn't plan to start considering the future of the dam for another nine years.