Friday, September 9, 2016

A New Brunswick Dilemma: The Mactaquac Dam.

There is an ongoing debate in our province about the future of the Mactaquac Dam, and a decision has to be made soon by the New Brunswick government.   In a nutshell, the dam's life expectancy is going to be up within the next 15 years and it will have to be either refurbished, shut down but left in place, or completely dismantled restoring the river to its original condition.   This is tough issue to figure out as there are legitimate cases to be made for all three positions, and legitimate arguments against each.

All three options are highlighted on a website here.

On the face of it, one may think this is purely a financial/mathematical problem that should be easy to solve given the numbers.   However the environment, social and economic issues go far beyond the profit vs. cost values.    On a power generation side, the Mactaquac dam is essential to our entire grid, providing not only a significant potion of the overall power generation capability, but it is the only site equipped to restart the other sites in the case of a province wide power shut down.

Currently the dam provides the structure necessary to create the Mactaquac headpond (along with other extensions of the river), which is used extensively for fishing, recreation, waterfront homes and cottages...etc.   With no dam there would be no headpond and that would cause a lot of anger for many to rely on it.   However on the downside, the dam prevents many fish species from migrating up the river to spawn.    Salmon for example have been all but wiped out in the Saint John river and many believe the dam is a primary cause of that.     For these and many more reasons, no matter what decision is made, it will be impossible to please everyone.

The first option currently on the table is to refurbish the dam so that it continues to generate power and with it revenue.    Currently the dam has a capacity to generate 630 MW of power (that is potential capacity.. how much it actually generates I have no idea), while the current proposal for this option would see the next generation of the dam increase its capacity to 700 MW, or slightly more than a 10% increase.     According to the website, there would be a fish passageway built, but how viable this would be for the various species I have no idea.  

The second option is to keep the structure of the dam but remove the power generating capabilities.   There would again be a fish passageway built in, and current water levels that maintain areas like the headpond would be maintained.    I am not sure what costs would have to go into maintaining this option over time but I am sure there would have to be some.

The final option is to remove all the structure at the dam and have the river return to its original flow through this section of the river (there are additional dam much further up river).   Over 13,000 acres of land would become exposed from dropping water levels such as the loss of the headpond.   This would obviously be a significant change but one that environmentalists seem to believe is the best option for many of the species which travel the river.

From a fishing perspective, not surprisingly the NB Salmon Federation has come out in favour of removing the dam completely as the proposed fish passage, even if effectively built, of which there is some doubt, would not be sufficient to meet all the needs of these delicate fish.

On the other hand the New Brunswick Sports Fishing Association, which essentially are the guys that fish for smallmouth bass from powerboats, has come out in favor of keeping the dam and building a fish passage.   I know a number of the guys and those I know are all great people.   The groups argument is that the headpond has excellent bass fishing and that people spend big bucks on their boats, trucks and such so that they can fish bass, so bass fishing is a boon to the economy and as such they are more important than other fishing groups.

Both arguments are technically correct but extremely narrow minded in my opinion.    The Salmon folks need to look at the big picture and realize that the cost of doing everything possible to maybe get the salmon back, (which may still be a long shot at best given all the other mitigating factors) may simply be too high.   While the NBSFA needs to lose the arrogant we-spend-money-so-we-are-better-than-you attitudes and stop believing the world revolves around them.   There are many places in the province with excellent bass fishing so I really have a hard time believing the loss of the dam would make that significant an impact to their sport.   Actually even without the dam, one would have to believe there would still be many places in the river that would provide great bass fishing.

I haven't presented nearly enough information here to make a serious argument for any of the options.  To really make an informed decision one needs to understand just how important the Mactaquac Dam is to New Brunswick and what it would mean to lose that power generation capability.    This is information that I am not really qualified present so I invite you to do some research into this yourself.   I've come to my own conclusion that New Brunswick cannot really do without this power and that there currently isn't any other alternative out there.   For certain I am not supportive of the environmental catastrophe that will be the turbine generation project in the Minas Basin!

Right now, my vote would be to rebuild the dam to generate power.  The same vote as that of the NBSFA, but certainly not for the the same selfish and narrow minded reasons.    I am thinking of the effect losing this capability would have on the province, the effect the loss of the headpond and other waters would have on the homeowners, the 10 years / 500 jobs that would be created from this project, and energy certainty we would have for decades after the project completes.   I would hope that everything possible could be done to consult with groups like the NB Salmon council and other environmental special interests to hopefully meet their needs as well as possible.   There would be no excuse not to have the absolute best designed fish passageway in the world at a new site.

Should new information come to light, or other arguments I haven't considered come out, I reserve the right to change my symbolic vote.  I say symbolic because we all know that what the Irvings dictate is what is going to be done anyway, just like everything else in this province.

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