'Rural lives matter': Cherryvale, N.B., bridge protest targets Liberals

Cherryvale, N.B., residents gathered by the shores of the Canaan River Saturday to protest the Liberal government's refusal to replace their beloved covered bridge that was washed out in an ice jam on the river four years ago.

Residents slam government’s refusal to replace bridge that was washed out 4 years ago

Four years after the 87-year-old covered bridge was swept away by ice, there's been no change in the government's decision not to replace it. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

Cherryvale, N.B., residents gathered Saturday by the shores of the Canaan River to protest the Liberal government's refusal to replace their beloved covered bridge that was washed out in an ice jam on the river four years ago.

The 87-year-old covered bridge was swept away in April 2014. Residents watched heartbroken as it drifted down river, before becoming wedged under another bridge.

Four years later, there is still no crossing at the site. And the anger from locals over a lack of a replacement has grown stronger.

"All we're asking as a community is to have some respect," said Perry Black, who is part of an 11-member committee trying to get a replacement bridge.

The lack of the bridge is an inconvenience to Black, but he's more concerned about what it means to others in the community.

"We're more worried about our people over there who can't get out when they need to get out," he said.

Donald Paterson said he's fed up by the government's refusal to replace the bridge. He would like to see a bailey bridge installed just so he can get across easily. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

Donald Paterson, who lives with his wife on the other side of the river, says having no bridge has "just been pure hell."

The long detour is time consuming and frustrating, he said. 

The province upgraded an alternate route, but people in the area say the route is unreliable because the bridge on that route is susceptible to closures due to flooding in bad weather.

"In '96 a fire came right behind our house," said Paterson. "If that fire comes again, where would we go if there happened to be high water?"

He said they don't need a fancy bridge and would be satisfied if a bailey bridge — a pre-fabricated, truss bridge — was placed at the crossing.

Many at Saturday's protest worry about what would happen if the route was blocked during an emergency.

They wore stickers and held up signs with the slogan "Rural Lives Matter." The organizers hope other areas of rural New Brunswick, where residents feel aggrieved by service cutbacks, adopt the slogan and signs.  

Along with handing out signs and stickers with the slogan "Rural Lives Matter," the rally unveiled this sign which will be placed by the side of Route 112. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

After speaking to the crowd, Black unveiled a large sign which will be posted at the side of the road. It calls out the Liberal government and pitches a plan to replace the bridge using disaster assistance funding.

"We're hoping that people drive by and when they see ... 'Liberal Government refuses to meet with the community,' we're hoping that resonates with people," said Black.

A petition calling for a meeting with the government, with over 2,000 signatures, was handed over to the area's MLA Ross Wetmore.

More than 2,000 people have signed a petition which calls on the provincial government to meet with the committee trying to restore bridge access. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Bill Fraser was not available for an interview, but a department spokesperson did issue a statement.

In the statement, Jeremy Trevors said the decision to remove the bridge will not be revisited.

"The province's financial situation simply doesn't allow for us to take on the carryover costs of reinstalling a covered bridge, which will have to be maintained for years to come" Trevors said. He also noted the other bridge in the area is only six kilometres away from the former Cherryvale bridge site.

He added the provincial government has demonstrated its commitment to rural areas through investments in schools, hospitals, nursing homes and transportation infrastructure.