New Brunswick

Heritage wharves along St. John River running out of cash

A public meeting was held in Long Reach Wednesday night to discuss the future of two heritage wharves in the area.

St. John River Society leads series of public meetings to create maintenance plan for orphaned wharves

More than 60 people turned out to a public meeting in Long Reach on Wednesday evening to discuss the future of two heritage steamboat wharves in the area.

It was the first in a series of community meetings being held this summer to determine how to maintain public access to 13 "orphaned wharves" along the St. John River.

The St. John River Society adopted the Whites Bluff and Bedford wharves along with several others in the 1990s after they were abandoned by the federal government.

However, it can no longer afford to pay the yearly maintenance costs.

Molly Demma, the executive director of the society, says, "money, money, money and ice" are the main challenges.

"We can't do it by ourselves anymore,"  she said.

"We were fortunate to receive money when it was divested but it's been 16 years and now we need help going forward.

"So if the wharves and the access it provides is important to communities, then we're asking for help from them."

There are 37 wharves along the St. John River that were part of the steamboat era of the 1800s. They were in use until 1947, and remained the property of the federal government before going through its divestiture program.

"Passengers loaded up and they loaded freight from these steamboats and it went for quite a long time, being the main transportation link between the community and the river," Demma said.

"These wharves were like the bus stops in the community."

Many of the wharves were taken over by the provincial government and municipalities, while the St. John River Society took ownership over the more remote sites.

"That's one of our core beliefs, is the river is the river of the people and there should be public access," Demma said.

"So in many of the communities where we own wharves, it's the only public access to the river … They're an integral part of the communities and their way of interacting with the river."

Depending on the extent of damages from ice, it can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000 per year to insure and maintain the heritage wharves, said Demma. 

The group is now looking for ways to manage the wharves in the future in a sustainable way and in partnership with citizens along the river.

At the meeting on Wednesday, some suggested the river society look after the insurance and taxes, while the community takes over responsibility of regular maintenance and repairs.

"I was so enthusiastic to see that people really cared about their wharf. It was affirming to see," said Demma.

She said similar conversations will be held in other communities along the St. John River, including Upper Maugerville, Wickham and Public Landing.

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