New Brunswick

Petitcodiac River changing faster than expected

The Petitcodiac River is changing faster than predicted only two months after the controversial gates were opened, according to a local engineering firm.

River banks are wider, tidal bore is growing: AMEC

The Petitcodiac River is changing faster than predicted only two months after the controversial causeway gates were opened, according to a local engineering firm.

After more than 40 years, the causeway gates were opened on April 14 to both cheers and jeers.

Jacques Paynter, an engineer from AMEC Earth and Environmental, the firm overseeing the river restoration, said the river banks are already widening at a noticeable pace and the Petitcodiac's famous tidal bore is also growing.

"We were actually anticipating a fairly modest increase in height. It seems to be already exceeding what we might have expected," Paynter said of the tidal bore.

The tidal bore is a regularly occurring wave that travels up the Petitcodiac River as the tide changes. The tidal bore has been a tourist attraction in the area for decades.

The causeway was built in 1968 and the bridge over top of it connected Moncton and Riverview. Its construction also created a permanent block of the river, which created a headpond known as Lake Petitcodiac.

The river soon became known as much for its muddy banks as for its tidal bore. The Petitcodiac River was also nicknamed locally as the Chocolate River because of its brown colour thanks to all of the silt.

Paynter said scientific tests are being carried out as the changes take place and that involves closing the causeway gates off and on.

Paynter said the flow of fish in the river is also encouraging. Roughly 40,000 Gaspereau were counted in just one day near Sailsbury.

More study needed

Paynter said so far, experts are more than satisfied with the results, which mirror what the environmental impact assessment predicted would happen if the causeway gates were opened.

But he said the river must be subjected to months of more studies and tests to see the long-term impact of removing the causeway.

The decision to open the causeway's gates has been contentious for many years.

In 2003, the river was ranked second on a list prepared by B.C. environmentalists of the most endangered rivers in Canada.

But the opening of the causeway gates was hardly unanimously endorsed. The Lake Petitcodiac Preservation Association and the Alma Fishermen both appealed to the courts to have the gates closed in April, a petition that failed.

In 2008, the New Brunswick government committed $20 million to the first stage of a restoration project for the 3,000 square-kilometre watershed.

Depending on the outcome of the studies, the province plans to replace the causeway gates with a four-lane bridge from Riverview to Moncton.

The total cost of the project has been pegged at $68 million.