Irving dam criticized after N.B. flooding

Some flood victims in St. George, N.B., are wondering whether the extensive damage could have been prevented if J.D. Irving had released water from its Lake Utopia hydroelectric dam.

Some flood victims in St. George, N.B., are questioning whether the disaster could have been prevented if J.D. Irving had released water from its Lake Utopia hydroelectric dam before the worst of this week's storm.

Residents in the southwestern New Brunswick community say they believe the company left water levels too high at the dam.

Citizens formed a local committee to examine the high water levels several years ago.

Liberal MLA Rick Doucet said corporate officials with J.D. Irving actively participated in those meetings. But Doucet said not much has came from those meetings.

"We've worked with Irving, they've been at the table, we've had some great discussions, [the Irvings are] telling us what they're going to do, but it's not happening," Doucet said.

"I think people have had it now, and people are going to want some action on this."

The company operates the southwestern New Brunswick dam to generate electricity for its mill.

A spokesperson for J.D. Irving told CBC News on Thursday that it manages the dam according to the weather and water level information it was given earlier this week.

The company's spokesperson said they were caught off guard when the storm exceeded all expectations.

Officials with the province's Emergency Measures Organization said this week that they have never seen water levels rise so quickly in the community.

The community's concerns with the high water levels did not just start this week when the area was hit by flash flooding.

Even in normal weather conditions, Bruce Jackson, who lives in the community, said the water levels at the dam are a concern.

"What has consistently been the concern is that the water has left at an artificially high level — by [one-], two-, three-feet high — to generate [electricity]," Jackson said.

"As a result, when we do get something like this [rain storm], we're behind the 8-ball before we even start."

Environment Canada said 172 mm fell in St. Stephen earlier this week.

Southwestern New Brunswick was among the regions hardest hit by this week's floods.