Between 1999 and 2010, Riverkeeper set out to reverse the tremendous ecological, economic and social devastation brought about to the region as a result of the Petitcodiac causeway, by implementing a series of groundbreaking actions in environmental communications and environmental law enforcement. Ultimately, these efforts prevailed, leading to the opening of the gates of the Petitcodiac causeway in April 2010, the end of Canada’s longest environmental battle and the commencement of North America’s largest river restoration project. The following is a compilation of 50 important actions that ultimately helped save the Petitcodiac River.
- Riverkeeper Launch (February 18, 1999)
- Media Work (February 1999 – 2010)
- Riverkeeper French Name and Logo (July 1999)
- Petitcodiac.org Website (September 1999)
- River Heritage Inventory (December 1999)
- Legal Opinions on the Petitcodiac Causeway (December 1999)
- Discussion Paper on Restoration Options, Petitcodiac causeway (March 2000)
- Aerial Photo Collage (March 2000)
- River Declaration (May 2000)
- Municipal Resolutions to Support River Restoration (May 2000 – November 2005)
- Legal Action Against Fisheries and Oceans (June 2000)
- No. 97 – An Overview of 96 Reports on the Petitcodiac River (1961 – 2000), 74 Pages (June 2000)
- Public Opinion Surveys (September 2000)
- Private Foundation Funding (October 2000)
- Submission to the Niles Review (January 2001)
- Tidal Bore Research (February 2001)
- Four Generations of Activists Fighting to Restore Free Flow (March 2001)
- Street Front Office (May 2001)
- Riverview Wetland Violation (August 2001)
- Riverkeeper Legal Challenge, Environmental Assessment (September 2001)
- Canadian Registered Charity Status (November 2001)
- Door-to-Door Campaign (November 2001)
- ‘I Love the Chocolate River’ T-Shirts (December 2001)
- Petitcodiac River Video (February 2002)
- Presentations to Public Schools, Community Groups (February 2002)
- Environmental Assessment Boycott and National Action Alert (Spring, 2002)
- Invasive Fish Species Campaign (April 2002)
- River Performances (May 2002)
- Petitcodiac Causeway Legal Brief (November 2002)
- Business Community Networking (November 2002)
- Petitcodiac River Awards (January 2003)
- 10 Worst Polluters List (January 2003)
- Political Survey Campaigns (May 2003)
- Riverkeeper Kayaks and Historic River Excursions (June 2003)
- Canada’s Most Endangered River Designation (July 2003)
- Environmental Assessment on the Future of the Petitcodiac (April 2004)
- Renaissance Series – 1 (April 2004)
- Robert F. Kennedy Event (April 2004)
- Renaissance Series – 2 (April, 2004)
- Sworn Affidavits from Fishermen (May, 2004)
- Renaissance Series – 3 (June 2004)
- Renaissance Series – 4 (July 2004)
- Land Conservation and River Access Project (September 2004)
- Battle of the Petitcodiac Commemoration (September 2005)
- Environmental Impact Assessment Final Report (October 2005)
- Rise Again, Petitcodiac (November 2005)
- Marine Species Poster (November 2005)
- Election Pledge to Restore the Petitcodiac (August 2006)
- Mandamus Court Application (June 2007)
- Special columns, Opening of the Petitcodiac Causeway Gates (April 14, 2010)
Riverkeeper launch (February 18, 1999)
Launch of Petitcodiac Riverkeeper at the Village of Petitcodiac, New Brunswick, at the headwaters of the river system. Two volunteer Riverkeepers are appointed – Gary Griffin, Anglophone and Daniel LeBlanc, Francophone. (In January 2000, Daniel LeBlanc takes on the role of sole Riverkeeper and is appointed Executive Director of the organization.) A contest is launched to find a French name for “Riverkeeper”. Three initial priorities are identified: achieving fish passage at the Petitcodiac causeway, ensuring that no pollution discharges from the former riverside landfill and upgrading the treatment of the effluent at the Greater Moncton Sewage Treatment Plant. In June 1999, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. attends the christening of Petitcodiac Riverkeeper’s first patrol boat at the old Moncton wharf before a large crowd lining the riverfront. A conference is given by Mr. Kennedy at a breakfast that gathers over 150 people from the community.
Media work (February 1999 – 2010)
During an 11-year period, Riverkeeper writes over 100 news releases in English and French, dozens of columns and letters to the editor and conducts over 500 media interviews to support the Petitcodiac River cause. Averaged between 10 and 15 media hits a month during this period (radio, newsprint, television) and the organization became a well known and respected public entity with the local communities, the media, elected officials and public servants.
Riverkeeper French name and logo (July 1999)
In July, a French equivalent for the international brand name of “Riverkeeper” is found (Sentinelle) and the distinctive logo for Petitcodiac Riverkeeper is produced (created by graphic artist Brian Branch). Both brands (“Sentinelle” name and Petitcodiac Riverkeeper logo) soon acquired and continue to enjoy local prominence. The French “Riverkeeper” brand name also allowed the values of the Waterkeeper movement (law enforcement) to be better integrated in mainstream culture amongst French Canadians (Acadians).
Petitcodiac.org website (September 1999)
Researched, wrote the content and directed the creation of Petitcodiac Riverkeeper’s first website, which came online in September 1999. Many new campaigns and sections were added over the years with the assistance of summer students (causeway campaign section, natural and cultural heritage values section, tidal bore section, toxic pollution section, river atlas, abandoned dams section, news archives, annual reports, publications, etc.).
River heritage inventory (December 1999)
In 1999, Riverkeeper initiated and led a comprehensive exercise to resurrect and promote the rich natural and cultural heritage of the Petitcodiac River/Shepody Bay Estuary, situated at the headwaters of the Bay of Fundy. Researched and drafted a detailed Pre-screening Report to nominate the Petitcodiac as a Canadian Heritage River. Set up and facilitated the work of the Petitcodiac River Heritage Committee, which consisted of local historians, a First Nations Chief, provincial and federal civil servants and Riverkeeper volunteers.
The report, submitted to the Canadian Heritage Rivers Board, identified nine unique Natural Values of the river system (including the Shepody Bay intertidal mudflats – an international Ramsar Convention Sanctuary, the annual convergence of 2 million Semipalmated Sandpiper Shorebirds and the entire East Coast American Shad population to Shepody Bay/the mouth of the Petitcodiac, Canada’s only documented presence of the rare Dwarf Wedgemussel and the world-renowned Petitcodiac Tidal Bore), as well as nine unique Human or Cultural Values (including the Historic Aboriginal Transportation Routes – river highway and land portage routes, Acadian Dike System, the August 1755 Battle of the Petitcodiac, the Shipbuilding and Rock quarry industries). The Canadian Heritage River Board opted to postpone any future decision on this designation until the Petitcodiac causeway and other major pollution issues would be resolved. This research, however, enabled Riverkeeper to build a solid river heritage foundation that would subsequently be extensively communicated and is still widely referenced today (i.e., Wikipedia, UNESCO Upper Fundy Biosphere Reserve – designated in 2007, 70 percent of which includes the Petitcodiac River/Shepody Bay Estuary).
Legal Opinions on the Petitcodiac Causeway (December 1999)
Inspired by the legal and scientific evidence collected by long-time river activist Gary Griffin during a period spanning 25 years, Riverkeeper commissioned two separate legal opinions on the Petitcodiac causeway. Both opinions argued that the causeway was in violation of the federal Fisheries Act, and recommended that Petitcodiac Riverkeeper initiate legal actions within the next six months to restore fish passage at the causeway. Over 20,000 documents were received from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans through an Access to Information request. The recommended legal strategy was estimated to cost between $250,000 and $400,000.
Discussion Paper on Restoration Options, Petitcodiac causeway (March 2000)
In early 2000, Riverkeeper researched, drafted and published its first major policy paper regarding the Petitcodiac Causeway, which advocated the restoration of “full tidal flow” (replace causeway with a partial bridge), as the preferred future option to comply with the fish passage provisions of the Federal Fisheries Act. We consulted numerous academics, community and government experts, including long-time river restoration advocate Gary Griffin, to reach a consensus. During the 30 years that preceded this point, the movement to restore the Petitcodiac had mainly advocated for “opening the gates” of the causeway. The partial bridge option came with a much higher price tag (and risks) but offered a better, more permanent solution.
Aerial photo collage (March 2000)
To coincide with the release of the Discussion Paper, Riverkeeper directed the creation an aerial photo collage which became a visual emblem of the plight to save the Petitcodiac River, locally and internationally. The series, which showed the river in its original state in 1954, as it was then (1996) and as it would be once a partial bridge would be constructed, was published on 10,000 postcards distributed widely in the watershed, posted on a large billboard in downtown Moncton and reprinted in regional and national newspapers (all New Brunswick dailies, the Globe & Mail, Ottawa Citizen, Halifax Chronicle, etc.) and in numerous websites (Waterkeeper Alliance, National Geographic, etc.). The fact that the destructive influence of the Petitcodiac causeway could now be observed from space became a rallying point of concern in the community.
River Declaration (May 2000)
Riverkeeper drafted and directed the production of the Petitcodiac River Declaration, in English, French and Mi’kmaq, calling on the Province of New Brunswick to restore “full tidal flow” (partial bridge) to the Petitcodiac. The Declaration, inserted into a copper-sculptured book especially created by artist Charles LeGresley, was signed by over 5,000 people locally including students, artist, fishermen, elders, business people and municipal leaders.
Municipal Resolutions to Support River Restoration (May 2000 – November 2005)
Between May and August 2000, Riverkeeper met the ten municipal councils which make up the Petitcodiac watershed, to seek their support towards the proposal to restore “full tidal flow” (Partial Bridge) to the Petitcodiac. In the summer of 2000, seven out of ten municipalities voted to support this resolution, one voted to remain neutral and two opposed these plans. Some of these council meetings were the scene of fierce debates, especially at the City of Moncton where a minority of opponents managed to derail the process. This municipal council meeting was broadcast live on a local community television channel, and support towards the cause began to climb. By 2005, nine out of the ten municipalities in the watershed had voted resolutions to support restoring “full tidal flow” to the river, including the City of Moncton.
Legal Action against Fisheries and Oceans (June 2000)
In June 2000, Riverkeeper travelled to Ottawa to meet the federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), Herb Dhaliwal, and followed up with a letter informing him of Riverkeeper’s intention to begin legal action against his department (DFO) for 30 years of failure to enforce the Fisheries Act at the Petitcodiac causeway. A series of meetings ensued which led to the Minister appointing a Special Advisor (Eugene Niles – Niles Review) in August 2000 to respond to fish passage concerns at the Petitcodiac causeway.
No. 97 – An Overview of 96 Reports on the Petitcodiac River (1961 – 2000), 74 pages (June 2000)
During the same month, Riverkeeper published a paper listing 96 official reports studying the effects of the causeway on the Petitcodiac River over the past 40 years. The caption of the report read: Petitcodiac – Canada’s Most Studied River, and was inspired by a bibliography of these reports published by DFO. In March of 2001, 36 additional reports were added to this list bringing the total to 132. The fact that the Petitcodiac was being “studied to death” became a catch phrase that caught on in the media, the public and amongst decision makers.
Public Opinion Surveys (September 2000)
In September 2000, Riverkeeper purchased a question in the Corporate Research Associates’ (CRA) Metro Moncton Quarterly Survey (an independent public polling agency), to track support for the restoration of the Petitcodiac River in the watershed. Survey results, tabulated on a sample of 1000 respondent with a margin of error of 1.4%, showed an increase in support from 47% in 1998 to 58% in 2000. The exercise would be repeated again by Riverkeeper in 2001 and 2004, where we reached a peak of 83% of those polled favouring the restoration of the river. Results were communicated and circulated widely. The evidence of the growing community support towards the river helped Riverkeeper monitor the effectiveness of its campaigns and assisted in galvanizing the political support that would ultimately be needed to win back the river.
Private Foundation Funding (October 2000)
Applied for and travelled to meet the Schad Foundation in Ontario, which awarded Petitcodiac Riverkeeper its first grant, in the amount of $25,000. The Conservation Council of New Brunswick became the fiscal sponsor for this grant, while we awaited news on our Canadian Registered Charity designation. This grant enabled the organization to pay its first permanent staff member (Daniel LeBlanc), who had occupied the full-time positions of Riverkeeper and Executive Director on a volunteer basis since early 1999.
Submission to the Niles Review (January 2001)
In January 2001, Riverkeeper researched and filed a detailed 18-page submission to the Niles Review, outlining the Fisheries Act implications on the four options that were being proposed in his Draft Report (action triggered by previous entry – see # 4). Riverkeeper’s submission argued that the “Status Quo” was technically illegal based on the fish passage provision as defined by the Fisheries Act and the scientific evidence collected over the past 30 years, and that the only viable long-term option available would be to return the river to full tidal flow (“Partial Bridge,” now being considered as a new option in his report). Mr. Niles submitted his final report to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans in February 2001, stating that “replacing the causeway with a Partial Bridge” was likely the “ideal option” to restore free flow at the causeway, but also recommended studying two other options: “Modify the Fishway” and “Permanently Open the Causeway Gates.” In March 2001, Fisheries and Oceans Minister Herb Dhaliwal, responded to the Niles Report by announcing that the Status Quo would no longer meet the legal requirements of the Fisheries Act for the Petitcodiac causeway. He further invited the Province of New Brunswick to quickly begin an Environmental Assessment, in partnership with the federal government, to determine the ideal long-term solution to this problem.
Tidal Bore research (February 2001)
In February 2001, Riverkeeper began the process of “resurrection” the tidal bore experience by producing a 14-page report and an educational poster entitled, “250 Years of Anecdotes on the Petitcodiac River Tidal Bore.” French Military Officer de Léry’s description of the Petitcodiac tidal bore in 1750 was the oldest written account of the bore traced during this research. The document was also the first detailed account of the Petitcodiac River tidal bore to be published in over 50 years. Five hundred copies of the poster were printed and distributed in the region’s schools and businesses. A tidal bore section was also created on Riverkeeper’s website featuring tidal bores from around the world. The project allowed people in the region to learn for the first time about surfers and kayakers enjoying tidal rivers on all continents – none of these activities existed locally prior to the causeway. Tidal bore researchers in England, France, Australia, the United States and Nova Scotia were contacted and came to know of our story. Surfers even pledged to visit the Petitcodiac once it would be restored.
Four generations of activists fighting to restore free flow (March 2001)
Riverkeeper organized a photo op near the Petitcodiac causeway that brought together an activist high school student, Naomie Thériault (17 years old), Riverkeeper Daniel LeBlanc (38 years old), long-time river activist Gary Griffin (56 years old) and the last Fisheries Officer to work on the Petitcodiac River, Conrad Bleakney (81 years old). The fact that the fight to save the Petitcodiac River, which began in the mid-1960s, was considered to be the longest-standing environmental battle in Canada, quickly became a catch phrase in the media, the public and amongst decision makers.
Street front Office (May 2001)
Set up and opened Petitcodiac Riverkeeper’s first office in a strategic location situated across from Moncton City Hall in the downtown business district. The new Riverkeeper logo was prominently displayed in this historic building’s large storefront windows, along with the aerial photo series (1954, 1996, 200?) of the Petitcodiac and other photos (tidal bore, ship building industry in Moncton). Hundreds of people pass by this street front office every day. During the eight years that the office existed at this location, it is estimated that tens of thousands of people walked by and/or stopped to take a look at the aerial photos of the Petitcodiac.
Riverview wetland violation (August 2001)
During a media interview next to the new Town of Riverview marina, constructed to promote the recreational values of the artificial headpond, Riverkeeper discovered that a nearby wetland was being filled by the municipality on the eve of a regatta boat racing event. That same day, Riverkeeper filed an official complaint with the New Brunswick Department of the Environment. An investigation took place and the Town of Riverview was ordered to restore the wetland. The regatta event, on the other hand, a ploy by opponents of the river to highlight the virtues of the artificial headpond, became a financial disaster that was never repeated.
Riverkeeper Legal Challenge, Environmental Assessment (September 2001)
Six months went by after the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) Minister’s declaration that the Petitcodiac causeway no longer met the legal requirements of the Fisheries Act, with no word from the Province of New Brunswick on any follow-up action. In late September 2001, Riverkeeper announced its intentions to proceed with its legal action against the DFO for failing to compel the Province to commence the Environmental Assessment (EA) that would lead to unimpeded fish passage. Two weeks after Riverkeeper’s notice, Ottawa announced that it had finally reached an agreement with the Province of New Brunswick to commence a 3-year, $3 million environmental assessment on restoring fish passage at the causeway (final cost would be $5 million). Riverkeeper notified the federal government that it would put its legal action on hold until the details of this study would be released.
Canadian Registered Charity status (November 2001)
After an 18-month waiting period, Petitcodiac Riverkeeper became Canada’s first Waterkeeper chapter and Greater-Moncton’s first environmental organization to obtain a Canadian Registered Charity status. Subsequently raised over $100,000 a year to support the organization’s work to restore the Petitcodiac River. The Kendall Foundation in Boston and the EJLB Foundation in Montreal became our biggest supporters. During a nine-year period that followed, raised over $850,000 to support the cause. The precedent created by Petitcodiac Riverkeeper obtaining its registered charity status helped other Canadian Waterkeeper chapters in the years that followed.
Door-to-door campaign (November 2001)
Riverkeeper obtained a $3,000 (US$ 2,000) grant from the US-based River Network organization to develop a membership recruitment strategy. Hired a Toronto-based membership recruitment consultant (originally from Moncton), hired an Administrative Assistant (our second staff member), set up a membership database, produced and printed 6000 information pamphlets and developed a first membership door-to-door campaign which enlisted 200 new members. Over the next four years, these door-to-door campaigns continued and succeeded in enlisting between 100 and 200 new members a year, for a total of over 750 members in a community of 120,000 people. Over 15,000 homes were visited during this campaign by the team of canvassers, led by artist Jean-Marc Dugas, who distributed pamphlets promoting the organization, postcards depicting the aerial photos of the river and collected funds for our cause.
‘I Love the Chocolate River’ T-shirts (December 2001)
Organized Petitcodiac Riverkeeper’s first successful fundraising event, a Christmas benefit auction, which achieved over $5000 in sales in its inaugural edition, good participation from the community and visibility for the organization. “Chocolate River Santa” even paid a visit to Riverkeeper’s office (captured in the local newsprint and television), to assist the organization with this effort, a tradition that continued for the next four years. The “I Love the Chocolate River” t-shirts were created and unveiled during this first Christmas Auction and became an overnight success. Pet-Kout-koy-ek river music CDs were sold and many of the region’s most renowned visual artists donated works of art (paintings, sculptures) for the cause, as a continuing testament to the long-standing collaboration between Riverkeeper and the local arts and music community.
Petitcodiac River video (February 2002)
Received a generous $20,000 donation from an Ontario film company, Soft Science, who was moved by the story of the Petitcodiac. Assisted Soft Science in producing a 15-minute video entitled “New Brunswick’s Petitcodiac River – A Quest for Survival.” The video, in French and English, was distributed to all schools in the region and was shown to thousands of students, elected officials and potential funders. It portrayed the struggle of the Petitcodiac River and delivered a story of hope for the future.
Presentations to public schools, community groups (February 2002)
Riverkeeper met and presented the unique features of the Petitcodiac River system and its environmental problems to thousands of students in the watershed between 1999 and 2010, paying visits to nearly every school in the watershed. Prepared an education kit on the Petitcodiac River for the watershed’s schools, which included the educational video, posters and postcards. District 1 management (French School District) enthusiastically accepted the materials, sending them to all of their 10 schools. District 2 management (English School District), judging the subject of the Petitcodiac River to be “too controversial,” decided not to support the initiative. The local press speculated that those opposed to the restoration influenced the decision. Between 1999 and 2010, also presented to numerous social service groups in the community and regularly set up our display at the local Farmers Market.
Environmental Assessment Boycott and National Action Alert (Spring, 2002)
The Environmental Assessment (EA) finally began in March 2002. To everyone’s surprise, the Province of New Brunswick announced its intention to reintroduce the Status Quo as a potentially viable option in the draft EA guidelines, once this study would be completed in 2005. The move forced Riverkeeper into an untenable situation. At a press conference convened along the riverbank, Riverkeeper announced the difficult decision of having to withdraw its support to the EA process until this illegal option was removed as a future contender. To illustrate the urgent and desperate state in which the river had become, the Riverkeeper attempted to throw a snowball across the frozen river channel, then barely 80 metres wide as opposed to its original one kilometre width prior to 1968. Subsequently organized a regional and national action alert to protest against this proposal. After a large public outcry, the provincial government abandoned this proposal and agreed that the Status Quo would no longer apply in the future. Riverkeeper announced in May that it was reintegrating the EA process.
Invasive fish species campaign (April 2002)
With renowned sport fly fisherman Bryant Freeman, Riverkeeper invited the media for a fishing expedition in the artificial headpond to highlight the growing predicament of invasive fish species. Two invasive fish species, namely smallmouth bass and chain pickerel, were illegally introduced in the artificial headpond (former Petitcodiac River) in the mid 1980s by locals intent on creating a new sport fishery. Opponents of the river restoration organized fishing tournaments over the years to promote this cause, arguing that opening the causeway gates to the Bay of Fundy salt water tides would destroy this “new and thriving” recreational fisheries. Scientists at the Federal Fisheries and Oceans Department, long since outraged by such attempts to reengineer the fish habitat of the ecosystem, were given an opportunity to voice their concerns so as to better inform sport fishermen and the public. This caused the organizers of the fishing tournament to eventually lose credibility in the public eye (along with a few sponsors). When the gates of the causeway were finally opened in April 2010, the majority of these fresh water invasive species were eliminated with the restoration of the tidal regime, making room for the remarkable recovery of the native Petitcodiac River fish stocks.
River performances (May 2002)
Riverkeeper organized four river performances in the watershed in May and June (River Prayers) featuring the renowned dancer-choreographer Lee Saunders and a traditional aboriginal prayer group from the Big Cove (Elsipogtog First Nation). The events took place in the Village of Petitcodiac, Moncton and Memramcook (Beaumont). Over 100 people took part. A few years later in 2005, organized an Earth Day sunrise ceremony on the Petitcodiac riverfront, led by aboriginal leader Carlos Gomes and in partnership with the Northrop Frye Literary Festival, which also was well attended.
Petitcodiac causeway legal brief (November 2002)
An 80-page report on the legality of the Petitcodiac causeway,researched by a pro bono law student from the University of Toronto, was prepared with the assistance of the Lake Ontario Waterkeeper. The findings of this report and its recommendations would form the basis for a legal contingency plan that was put into place should the federal and provincial governments refuse to act on the case. The mandamus application legal proceedings, triggered by Petitcodiac Riverkeeper in 2007, were largely based on this strategy.
Business community networking (November 2002)
Riverkeeper continued to develop ties with the local business community by participating in the Greater Moncton Chamber of Commerce networking activities. Sent information letters to over 800 local businesses in the Greater Moncton region to solicit their support in favour of the restoration of the Petitcodiac. Increased our corporate sponsorship support as well as our visibility in the Greater Moncton business community.
Petitcodiac River Awards (January 2003)
Created the Petitcodiac River Award in late 2002, given yearly by Riverkeeper to recognize groups, institutions or individuals that have made a significant contribution towards the protection and restoration of the Petitcodiac River system. L’École Amirault, a primary school in Dieppe, won the first annual award (2002) for its yearlong program for all students (kindergarten to grade four) focused on learning the cultural and natural values of the Petitcodiac River. Subsequent winners of the Petitcodiac River Award would include: Environment Canada Enforcement Branch (2003) – for its role in resolving two outstanding pollution cases, the landfill and textile effluent; and the Arts Community (2004) – for its generous contribution to the Petitcodiac River cause over the past decades.
10 Worst Polluters List (January 2003)
Since January 2003, Riverkeeper has researched and drafted an annual list and report of the watershed’s “10 Worst Polluters”, a tradition that now continues to be repeated bi-yearly. The top three “polluters” identified were all government or public agencies and included the Province of New Brunswick (Petitcodiac causeway and other causeways in the watershed), the Greater Moncton Sewage Commission (insufficient effluent treatment at the Sewage Treatment Plant) and the City of Moncton (toxic effluent discharges from its former riverside landfill). A description of the “pollution” or environmental degradation problems was presented and solutions identified. Every subsequent year, the list and report monitor the progress towards resolving these issues.
Political survey campaigns (May 2003)
Riverkeeper designed questionnaire and conducted intensive campaign to survey all local candidates (in nine ridings) and all political parties running for the 2003 Provincial election. With two weeks left in the campaign, all three political parties (Conservatives, Liberals and NDP) pledged to take “swift action” to implement the results of the Environmental Impact Assessment on the future of the river once it would be completed in 2005. Riverkeeper conducted similar surveys in all subsequent federal and provincial elections. After numerous attempts during the seven years of the Conservative Government, Riverkeeper was unsuccessful in meeting with the Premier of New Brunswick, Bernard Lord (who was the local Moncton East MLA) or the Minister of Transportation (the owner of the Petitcodiac causeway). Four out of the seven local Conservative MLAs were vehemently opposed to the restoration project, being aligned with the opponent “Lake Preservation” group. This period was also marked by enormous delays in the start up to and the completion of the Environmental Impact Assessment into the future of the causeway. The NDP and Liberals, who nearly won the May 2003 election, were keen to move forward with the project.
Riverkeeper kayaks and historic river excursions (June 2003)
Riverkeeper celebrated the first Canadian Rivers Day event by organizing a canoe-kayak excursion on the tidal Petitcodiac River, travelling from the Belliveau-Village wharf to Hillsborough and back, a four-kilometre run coinciding with high tide. The event was the first ever public outing by canoe-kayak on the tidal Petitcodiac River, considered “very dangerous” by locals. The gift of two new kayaks to Riverkeeper was made possible thanks to a donation from the November 2002 edition of the Moncton World Wine Festival. In April 2005, organized the first ever two-day Petitcodiac River canoe/kayak run from the headwaters of the River to Salisbury at the head of tide. Finally, in September 2005, organized the first ever Downtown River Run, a 10 km canoe/kayak excursion from the Moncton public wharf to the causeway at high tide, attracting over 20 participants.
Canada’s Most Endangered River designation (July 2003)
By the summer of 2003, the dire state of the Petitcodiac had not improved, and if anything, Riverkeeper’s efforts to systematically document all major environmental offences and pursue solutions were merely accentuating the urgency to act and save the river (our first important breakthrough would come in September 2003 – riverside landfill court victory, and even that decision would take a further seven years to be implemented). In July 2003, however, Earthwild International and Wildcanada.net designated the Petitcodiac as “Canada’s Most Endangered River,” a story that received regional, national and international attention: the Globe & Mail, National Geographic website and all major New Brunswick news media. In 2002, the Petitcodiac had been designated Canada’s Second Most Endangered River in the first ever edition of this list. But while the designation helped galvanize local and national support for the cause, the river’s troubles were far from over.
Environmental Assessment on the future of the Petitcodiac (April 2004)
Riverkeeper actively participated in the $5 million Environmental Assessment (EA) on the future of the Petitcodiac causeway, providing detailed comments throughout 2002, 2003 and 2004 in order to highlight any omissions, share its research and corroborate evidence that supported the “Partial Bridge” option. At an important technical workshop on fish passage in April 2004, experts leading the EA presented conclusive scientific evidence, after thoroughly researching various fishway passage facilities around the world, that only free flow (permanently opening the gates or replacing the causeway with a partial bridge) would allow unimpeded fish passage at the Petitcodiac causeway. This precedent-setting scientific research (at a cost of several million dollars) confirmed what Riverkeeper and previous river restoration activists had worked nearly 40 years to demonstrate.
Renaissance Series – 1 (April 2004)
Directed the creation of the four-part Petitcodiac Renaissance poster series, exploring opportunities associated with the restoration of the river. The first poster, Tidal Bores of the World, featured a project to resurrect the once world-renowned Petitcodiac tidal bore attraction once the river was restored. A parallel was made with the nearby Shubenacadie River in Nova Scotia, where since the late 1990s thousands of people ride the bore on zodiacs every summer, an activity that generates over $10 million a year in local benefits. Also predicted that surfers would one day surf the Petitcodiac tidal bore, as they do in England and France, an image that either produced excited anticipation from the youth or bouts of hysterical laughter from others.
Robert F. Kennedy event (April 2004)
Organized a speaking event featuring Robert F. Kennedy at Moncton High School, attended by 600 people, where he delivered a passionate speech urging the community to embrace the historic river restoration project. Also organized a gala reception at Moncton City Hall with the Mayor and a number of prominent local politicians (the same City and Mayor that we had dragged through the court on criminal charges for the landfill case between 2002 and 2003…!). Kennedy vowed to return to surf the Petitcodiac once the river was restored.
Renaissance Series – 2 (April 2004)
The second in the four-part Petitcodiac Renaissance poster series was unveiled at a gala at Moncton City Hall, by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. The poster entitled The Monument, featured a project to recycle the gates of the causeway into a large public sculpture (Stonehenge-like) once the causeway would be dismantled. A proposed text in English and French for a commemorative plaque describing the restoration campaign was also drafted. The project has caught the imagination of many in the local community and is still active.
Sworn affidavits from fishermen (May 2004)
With the assistance of Lake Ontario Waterkeeper and University of Toronto law students, prepared and filed six sworn affidavits with the Petitcodiac EIA process, submitted by veteran fishermen who fished the Petitcodiac River prior to the causeway being constructed. This was the first time that sworn testimony was submitted as evidence in the causeway case.
Renaissance Series – 3 (June 2004)
Produced and unveiled The Wall, the third Petitcodiac Renaissance poster, a project to transform the riverside landfill into an observation platform of the river. The project was inspired by the work of architect André Boudreau, who designed this concept while completing his architect degree at Dalhousie University in Halifax.
Renaissance Series – 4 (July 2004)
Produced and unveiled Unforgettable Fire, the final of the four-part Petitcodiac Renaissance poster series. This concept suggested that the community commemorate the opening of the causeway by holding a large fireworks display and concert, an event that would generate in excess of $10 million in benefits over this historic weekend. The project is still active, with plans for a large community celebration set to take place with the completion of the partial bridge. In 2012, two years after the opening of the causeway gates, I was asked to produce a revised vision of these concepts. The document is entitled the Petitcodiac Renaissance Plan and contains ten priorities, four of which are ecological and six are recommendations for the region to gain the maximum economic and social benefits from the river restoration project.
Land Conservation and River Access Project (September 2004)
Riverkeeper initiated research into a shoreline conservation project with the goal of increasing the amount of waterfront land protected by conservation easements in our watershed. Partial funding was obtained through Environment Canada. Mapping of the watershed was completed in partnership with the Petitcodiac Watershed Monitoring Group. An educational pamphlet and a website section were produced. Meetings took place with prospective landowners and leading conservation organizations in the province. One of the aims of the project was to create more public accesses to the river, an objective that continues to be promoted today.
Battle of the Petitcodiac commemoration (September 2005)
Riverkeeper organize and co-hosted, with board member Terry Dixon-Parker the “Voices from the Marsh” event in Hillsborough, on September 2nd, to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the “Battle of the Petitcodiac,” involving armed Acadian and French militias and British troops, in which 24 English (American) soldiers perished. The Hillsborough historic Baptist Church was filled for this event bringing together Acadian and Anglophone choirs and French- and English-speaking peoples from “both sides of the river.”
Environmental Impact Assessment Final Report (October 2005)
In October 2005, the option to restore “full tidal flow” at the Petitcodiac River causeway (replace the causeway with a Partial Bridge) was recommended as the preferred option in the final $5 million Environmental Assessment (EA) Report. The recommendation would cost an estimated $68 million (since revised to over $80 million), spell the end of the artificial headpond and eventually restore the Petitcodiac River to over 80 percent of its original state. Riverkeeper submitted detailed comments to support the findings of this 2,386-page long EA Report. The results of this scientific research were groundbreaking in Canada and could have direct implications on nearby tidal barriers in the Bay of Fundy, which have had similar devastating impacts on ecosystems and fish passage.
In November, after a vigorous debate, Moncton City Council and Hillsborough Village Council voted to support the EIA Report recommendation to open the causeway. Nine out of ten municipalities in the watershed thereafter supported the restoration of the Petitcodiac. The Town of Riverview, despite pledging to support the final conclusions of the EIA in October 2002 and again in June 2003, turned its back on its promise and resumed its fight against the restoration of the Petitcodiac.
Rise Again, Petitcodiac (November 2005)
Riverkeeper researched, co-drafted and produced a 16-page Special Report on the river entitled, “Rise Again, Petitcodiac/Une rivière renaît.” Over 50,000 copies of this souvenir edition were printed and distributed throughout the watershed. The publication was also used as an educational tool in schools and other public presentations. The Special Report was featured online at the Canadaeast.com news agency during a one-year period.
Marine Species poster (November 2005)
Riverkeeper researched and directed the production of an educational poster on the Petitcodiac River’s marine species, highlighting the watershed’s fish, marine mammals and fresh water mussel species. The poster provided a historical baseline of the river’s marine species that existed before the causeway, the present-day situation (endangered) and the species’ likelihood of recovery. Over 50,000 copies of the poster were printed, inserted in the Special Report and distributed throughout the watershed. Additional copies of the poster were printed in 2009. The recovery predictions in the poster have proved to be accurate.
Election Pledge to Restore the Petitcodiac (August 2006)
Riverkeeper canvassed all political leaders and parties running for the 2006 Provincial Election to commit to the EIA recommendation to restore full tidal flow to the River. Despite numerous attempts, the Lord Government (Conservatives) would not respond. Liberal leader Shawn Graham, who would go on to win the election, agreed and visited Moncton during the campaign to announce that his government would deliver on his promise to restore the Petitcodiac.
Mandamus Court Application (June 2007)
Eighteen months after the EA Report had recommended restoring the Petitcodiac River and with no project announcement in sight, Riverkeeper set out in the spring of 2007 to implement its legal backup strategy that had been crafted a few years earlier. Under the leadership of Riverkeeper President Michel Desjardins and the help of staff member Renée Morel, law student Noël Corriveau and Université de Moncton Law Professor Michel Doucet, a Mandamus Application was filed in federal court in June 2007 to compel the Province (owners of the causeway) to commence the estimated $80 million project to restore full tidal flow to the Petitcodiac. Weeks of negotiation later, the new provincial government honoured their election promise by announcing in August 2007, before a packed crowd of cheering supporters, the selection of their preferred option (Partial Bridge). In July 2008, a first $20 million was invested to begin the project (later increased to $40 million).
Special columns, opening of the Petitcodiac causeway gates (April 14, 2010)
The $20 million initial investment (later increased to $40 million) was meant to cover Stage 1 (Preparations) and Stage 2 (Opening of the gates and monitoring) of the restoration project. Negotiations with the Federal Harper Conservative Government to complete the final Stage 3 (dismantling a portion of the causeway and building a partial bridge – estimated at $40 million) derailed in 2008 and 2009 due to the influence of the anti-river restoration lobby attempting to overturn the decision. Enormous pressures were put on the Province by angry landowners living along the artificial headpond, including a last-minute court injunction and a legislative motion by provincial opposition members in March 2010 that were both defeated.
During a five-week period in the winter of 2010, Riverkeeper stepped in to deliver a final push for the cause, publishing in the local English and French newspapers a series of five columns describing the historical importance of the restoration project, to counter the inflammatory rhetoric delivered in the provincial media by the opponents. The columns were highly welcomed by the new provincial government and river supporters desperate for a positive twist on the river restoration story. Several weeks later, the infamous gates of the Petitcodiac causeway were opened in the morning of April 14, 2010, before a crowd of hundreds of cheering and angry demonstrators. The move put an end to nearly 44 years of bitter and divisive conflict in the region, saved the Petitcodiac and commenced one of the largest fish and river restoration projects in the world.