New Brunswick

Remove dam, let St. Croix River run freely, says Fundy Baykeeper

Decommissioning of the Milltown Generating Station and dam would provide an ecological boost to the St. Croix River and an economic boost to region says Matt Abbott, the Fundy Baykeeper of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick. 

Generating station no longer viable to NB Power

NB Power wants to decommission the Milltown dam, saying it generates only .8 per cent of the utility's power. (Historic Places Canada)

Decommissioning of the Milltown Generating Station and dam would provide an ecological boost to the St. Croix River and an economic boost to region, says Matt Abbott, the Fundy Baykeeper of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick. 

But, it remains to be seen what NB Power's final decision will be on what will happen to the dam. 

Last year, NB Power announced plans to decommission the Milltown Generating Station, said to be the oldest operating hydroelectric dam in Canada.

Since then, the utility has been working with the local community and other interested parties related to the future of the station, but a spokesperson said the discussions haven't concluded.

"As part of that commitment to the local community and other interested parties, we have not finalized our future plans at this time," said Sheila Lagacé.

For Abbot, given all that's known about the generating station and dam, the best option would be removal to allow the lower part of the St. Croix River to flow freely. 

NB Power has said the station is no longer viable. It produces just 0.8 per cent of the utility's power. Three of its seven turbines don't work, while the other four require significant investment. The antiquated fish passage would also require refurbishment.

"Given that it produces less than one per cent of the power, given its age and the economics associated with it, with refurbishment, the best option at Milltown is removal," Abbott told CBC's Information Morning Saint John

Abbot said if the first significant barrier is removed and other dams on the St. Croix River are worked on, then the dream of seeing fish numbers increase to the millions would be possible.

Matt Abbott is Fundy Baykeeper of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick. The project will help restore water ecosystems. 8:26

He adds he is happy NB Power is taking the right steps by talking to the community, taking the time to do the science and hearing from the right people on how to do it. 

Abbot said there is a restoration process already underway by the Passamaquoddy Nation to make sure fish can get past any obstruction in the river. 

"We've got people in every square kilometre of the watershed making sure its the habitat the fish deserve." 

Abbot said if the dam stayed, it would limit how much restoration can be done on the river. The dam limits the upper river to species that are able to get past it using the fish ladder. 

"Nothing passes fish like a natural flowing river. Rivers are much better at fish passage than us."

An old photo of the cotton mill and dam. The photo was found in a canister in a wall during renovations of an old photography shop. (Submitted by Darren McCabe)

"We're really looking at a whole river restoration. So gaspereaux is a keystone species that's really important to the health of the river and the coastal ecosystems." 

Abbot said they'd like to see a return of all sea run fish to the upper river, including salmon, smelt, shad and more. 

"A species like salmon is really hard to restore, but… we've got a much better shot of doing that if we're trying to restore salmon to a really healthy river with all the other species that coexists with salmon naturally in it." 

NB Power's proposed schedule for the project indicates it will make a submission for an environmental impact study and permit this summer with possible decommissioning activities in 2021. 

With files from Information Morning Saint John

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