Moncton city councillors have voted in favour of the federal government replacing the causeway with a bridge despite a newly-released report showing a bridge could increase the risk of floods in the region.
Councillors discovered the report’s findings on Monday night as they were preparing to support a motion to get the federal government to spend $40 million on a new bridge.
The report's conclusions were only divulged when Jack MacDonald, the city’s engineer, was asked if the report, commissioned by the provincial government, confirmed that a bigger and deeper river would reduce the risk of flooding.
'I would be voting on something that would increase the risk of flooding. I can't possibly support that.'— Coun. Daniel Bourgeois
"The study actually does not state that. The study actually states counter to that, that with the opening the water will get deeper during a flood condition," MacDonald said.
"That's a discussion I've had ongoing with the author of that report because intuitively, it doesn't make sense, however, that is what the author of that report is saying."
The motion’s request came from the Riverkeepers, a local environmental group, which is lobbying the federal government to spend $40 million on digging out a new channel in the river and replace the 40-metre gap in the causeway with a 300-metre bridge.
Councillors were willing to go along with the request until Coun. Daniel Bourgeois asked the city engineer how the changes would impact on flood events.
When MacDonald released the findings of the report by the Atlantic Climate Adaptation Solutions Association, the tone of the debate changed.
"I would be voting on something that would increase the risk of flooding. I can't possibly support that," said Bourgeois, one of two councillors who suggested the motion be tabled for two weeks to get more information from the consultant.
Moncton Mayor George LeBlanc agreed. He said he wanted to see more information on the impact that the river’s changes would have on the city.
"This climate change report indicates that it may increase the risk of flooding. I think it's an issue that needs to be clarified," LeBlanc said.
But the majority of councillors decided the risk of flooding was irrelevant and voted in favour of the motion.
Decades of controversy
The Petitcodiac River causeway has been a source of controversy for decades. The causeway was built in 1968 between Moncton and Riverview and it was the subject of many reports on whether the causeway gates should be opened.
The provincial government announced plans for a 280-metre, four-lane bridge in 2007, but said it would need federal funding to proceed.
The estimated cost, at that time, was about $68 million. Provincial officials were banking on the federal government picking up 75 per cent of that bill.
The causeway gates were opened in April 2010 but it did not come without controversy and legal challenges.
The impact of the gates being opened is continuing to be monitored by different levels of government.
The New Brunswick government recently purchased four residential properties west of the Petitcodiac River causeway for more than $1 million over fears of future flooding and erosion.
Only those four of 700 properties were considered to be at risk of flooding, according to the provincial government.