The causeway between Moncton and Riverview will be replaced with a 280-metre bridge, the New Brunswick government announced Tuesday morning in Moncton.

Supply and Services Minister Roly McIntyre said the province wants to build a new bridge and permanently open the causeway gates to allow fish to pass through the Petitcodiac River.

In 2003, the river was ranked second on a list prepared by B.C. environmentalists of the most endangered rivers in the country. The Petitcodiac earned that ranking because construction of the causeway in 1968 clogged the river's powerful tidal bore and blocked the passage of fish.

The $68-million project proposal, which could take up to eight years to complete, builds on two of the options recommended ina 2005 environmental impact assessment: opening the fishway and constructing a new bridge.

The new, four-lanebridge would be constructed immediately downstream from the causeway, tying into the existing Findlay Boulevard and approach ramps on the Riverview side of the Petitcodiac.

With the completion of the bridge, the existing gate structure would be removed, allowing for an eventual river opening between 72 and 225 metres wide.

People who support the project say under this option the river flow will be 82 per cent of what it was before the causeway was built.

McIntyre 'optimistic' for federal funding

McIntyre said the next step in the project is to secure funding from the federal government. The causeway was constructed with federal funding.

"We've had very preliminary discussions. The premier has talked to the prime minister who has referred it to the minister of transportation.The federal fisheries minister has been down here and has looked at the causeway. We're optimistic that we can come to an agreement," he told CBC News. "We talk in terms of an equal partnership but … really what we want to do is get them on side so we don't have a set figure in our mind."

Pending funding support, construction would happen in three phases in compliance with the provincial Department of Environment's 17 environmental conditions for a new river passage.

The first two years would consist of planning and site preparation, followed by another two years for opening the gates and environmental monitoring of the river.

The final phase would be the actual construction of the new bridge over three to four years.

Reactions mixed after announcement

The Petitcodiac Riverkeeper group has been fighting for years forthe restoration of the river.

The group's chairman, Michel Desjardins, said a new bridge was his group's preference out of the four options that were being considered.

He said the announcement didn't signal the end of work for the group.

"What we want actually is a sense that a project will go ahead, and a commitment on the part of the province," Desjardins said.

Mattieu Gallant, who has been working to have the river restored since he arrived in Moncton in 1991, said the province may have made the announcement prematurely.

"I'm a little disappointed that the money isn't where their mouth is and this could delay the actual restoration because the federal government might not budge for a while," he said.

'Living in a fool's paradise'

Other people areeven less enthusiastic about the proposal. Homeowners on Lake Petitcodiac, which was created with the construction of the causeway, say the government's plan will destroy their lake.

Doug Hamer, who lives near the lake, does not support the new bridge either.

"For those people that think they're going to turn back the clock and change what is west of the causeway into something that previously was prior of 1966 or '67, I think they're living in a fool's paradise," he said.

Jim Sellars, who lives along the headpond, was among those not cheering at the morning announcement. He said property owners like him would suffer if the gates were opened.

The Environmental Impact Assessment "says there is a 30 per cent property loss expected, so every property, 480 homes on both sides of the river should be able to get a cheque for 30 per cent of their current property value plus a redress of the property tax," Sellars said

A spokesperson said the homeowners were considering legal action.

McIntyre said landowners would be compensated on a case-by-case basis.