Mactaquac Dam Future Sparks Debate


World Wildlife Federation is studying the St. John River's health
CBC News
Posted: Jan 22, 2013 11:50 AM AT

About 100 people turned out to a meeting in Upper Kingsclear on Monday night to ask questions about whether a project intended to restore the St. John River's natural flow may actually signal an end to the Mactaquac Hydroelectric Dam.

The World Wildlife Fund is undertaking a five-year project that is studying the health of the St. John River.

The environmental group held a public meeting last fall to talk about the new project and that caused many people to grow suspicious that the plan could lead to a recommendation to shut down the dam.

Wayne Bonnar, an Upper Kingsclear resident, said many people in the community are worried about the dam’s future.

“The rumors were floating around that possibly the Mactaquac dam would be taken out of service and it would possibly be opened up and the rumors were that the World Wildlife Fund had their eyes on putting the river back to the state it was in the 1950s,” Bonnar said.

People who live in the area don't want to lose the waterfront property they have because of the Mactacquac dam.

Bonnar said people who left Monday night’s meeting still have questions about the group’s goal.

"They want to improve the health of the river but there was absolutely nothing that was said that was specific to how they planned to do that,” he said.

The hydro dam is about 20 kilometres northwest of Fredericton. When NB Power built the dam in 1966, it forced hundreds of local families to move to make way for flooding of the head pond.

The hydroelectric generating station was scheduled to operate for a century. But an ongoing chemical reaction in the concrete of the dam has led to its lifespan being shortened to 67 years, ending in 2030.

The cost is estimated somewhere between $2 billion and $3 billion.

Dispelling rumours

Simon Mitchell, the WWF's advisor on the St. John River for the Living Rivers Initiative, said the latest meeting was about dispelling rumours that have arisen in the community about the group's project.

"We're not here to oppose or support the removal of the Mactaquac generating station and spillway. Our focus is on river health,” he said.

Mitchell said one of the project’s goals is to make an action plan that will create more natural flows to the river.

In 2009, the organization said the “hydropower dams on the [St. John] River have dramatically altered river flows and contributed to the decline of the Atlantic salmon population that is now endangered.”

It wasn't just the WWF doing damage control on Monday. Progressive Conservative MLA Carl Urquhart was at the meeting as well to provide reassurances to his constituents that the dam is not going anywhere.

"The dam will be [refurbished] but if it is decommissioned it will still maintain the head pond and keep the flows going for an extended period of time,” he said.