Bridge over troubled waters

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Monctonians, God bless them, sometimes forget their uncanny ability to embrace several municipal development opportunities and simultaneously push for support from higher levels of government.

After all, even provincial and federal office holders occasionally remember how to walk and chew gum at the same time.

Liberal MP for Beausejour Dominic LeBlanc – who is also government house leader – managed to raise both hopes and eyebrows the other week when he indicated that Ottawa is completing plans to replace part of the causeway that connects Moncton and Riverview with a bridge.

According to a Moncton Times & Transcript report, “LeBlanc notes that the bridge project, that would allow a freer flow of the Petitcodiac River, has been underway for more than a decade. An ongoing environmental impact assessment analyzing the effects of the permanent opening of the causeway gates started in 2004. The gates were opened so that scientists could study the effect of the partial restoration of the tidal flow of the river in anticipation of some day taking out part of the causeway and building a bridge.”

Said Mr. LeBlanc in an interview: “The province has spent $55 million or $60 million doing a lot of the work to prepare for the removal of the causeway and the installation of a bridge. . .The exciting piece that will capture the public imagination is to restore the full tidal flow to the river. That’s something I was working on when Mr. (Jean) Chretien was prime minister 12 years ago. That’s the piece that, for me, is unfinished.”

Some have interpreted Mr. LeBlanc’s comments to mean that, for now, a much-needed, $90-million upgrade to the municipal sewage treatment system might have to proceed without federal government help. But David Muir, chairman of the Greater Moncton Wastewater Commission, thinks the refurbishment should be the first order of business. So does Riverview Mayor Ann Seamans.

Noted Mr. Muir: “Certainly we’d like to see all MPs support our project as the number one priority.” Added Ms. Seamans: “The deadline of 2020 (for the upgrade) makes the (plant) project foremost. It’s the federal government which imposed that.”

For his part, Mr. LeBlanc hasn’t ruled out providing funding for both causeway and treatment projects. “We’re going to spend a lot of money on green infrastructure, and I know the sewage commission project is very expensive,” he said last week. “It is also needed, and that will be looked at in the context of these other projects. In the normal course of infrastructure investments, the sewage commission project should be looked at as well.”

Still, he says, he doesn’t think the two capital developments “have to be linked.”

Actually, they do or, at least, should be.

In reality, the federal government is both morally and legally obliged to support both projects. Indeed, from a practical standpoint, it doesn’t make much sense to proceed with one without the other.

A freer-flowing Petitcodiac River fulfills the intent of sections of both the Fisheries and Environment Acts, which seek to protect marine habitats and secure ecological integrity – especially where human agency has caused, or threatens to cause, harm. So does, it could be reasonably argued, a waterway that’s absent of pollution.

The issue, now, should be logistical, not financial.

If both projects are, in fact, designed to improve the health of natural and human environments, what steps are necessary to properly coordinate their execution? The last thing this tri-city area need are the unintended consequences of siloed development along a contiguous waterway.

Coordination might even save some money.

How’s that for walking and chewing gum?

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