'Northumberland toilet bowl' can't bear more development, residents coalition says

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Residents question environmental impact assessment released for controversial Parlee campground

People who live along the southeast coast of New Brunswick are coming together to make themselves heard on the future of their shoreline communities.

They sent a letter to Environment Minister Serge Rousselle this week, urging the province to adopt a moratorium on coastal development immediately.

"What we're asking is a moratorium on development 500 metres from the shore," said Arthur Melanson, who represents residents from Pointe-du-Chêne. "Basically from Grande Digue down to Murray Beach."

"We had no choice but to join forces," said Natasha Bell of Cap-Pelé. "The strategy up until now has been the approval of these little developments. Instead of looking at it individually, a holistic approach. It's a coastline problem."

Groups representing residents from Pointe-du-Chêne, Cap-Pelé and Cap-Brûlé, as well as the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, said they worry that developments near the water or encroaching on wetlands will only worsen the already poor water quality in Shediac Bay.

The possibility of a link between urbanization and poor water quality was raised by a Mount Allison University study this month.

And while a government committee is supposed to identify causes of pollution at Parlee Beach by June 2018, it's unlikely the environment minister will take a position before then.

A statement from Rousselle on Thursday repeated his commitment to identifying and dealing with the contamination at Parlee Beach but indicated a decision won't be coming this year.

"We will wait for all this work to be completed before making any decisions as the assessment currently being done should provide a clearer picture for government to address and mitigate the contamination," Rousselle said.

Call for immediate action

But residents are calling on the minister to act immediately, not wait until 2018.

"This is a decision that's entirely up to the minister of environment to intervene on," said Andre Touchburn, who represents residents from  Cap-Brûlé. "We feel there's no need to delay and make a decision about a moratorium.

Bell suggested the province can forget about tourism along the Northumberland Strait.

"We're not going to have tourists," she said. "People aren't going to get in their car and drive, you know, eight hours from Quebec to swim in the Northumberland toilet bowl. I mean it's as simple as that."

Bell calls the province's vision for coastline development short-sighted, emphasizing short-term profit from campground developments rather than choosing to ensure good water quality in the long run.

In their letter to Rousselle, residents estimated Parlee Beach generates $300 million annually in tourism revenue, and said they believe if the water quality problem is not addressed this year, it could have irreparable effects on the economy.

"Parlee Beach, the other beaches of southeast New Brunswick are huge economic generators for the province," said Touchburn. "If the regulations are not respected for the protection of wetlands and the beaches, and the pollution which we see now continues, the value of that huge economic generator will be damaged significantly.

"It's not a question of the environment or the economy. Both have to be protected."

The groups will make a presentation explaining their point of view during Earth Day festivities this Sunday at the Moncton market.