The bridge head where the Cherryvale covered bridge once stood in Canaan Forks is seen in 2023.ERIN SWEET/COURTESY OF BUTTERNUT VALLEY

When flooding in 2014 washed out the Cherryvale Covered Bridge, it left Donna Black “on an island.”

The spring flooding that year destroyed 715 homes around the province and led to the evacuation of 1,450 people in the Sussex region, according to a provincial database. The high waters on the Canaan River swept the 90-year-old Cherryvale Covered Bridge away on April 16, 2014, until it became lodged under another bridge 20 kilometres downriver, Brunswick News reported.

“We were on an island, we were completely on an island, no way out,” the Canaan Forks resident said. She said it endangered her husband, who has heart issues, as well as their farm animals who needed a vet.

“Vets couldn’t get to our cattle, doctors couldn’t get to humans,” she said. “What we endured during that flood, nobody should have to today. It was the most dramatic thing we ever witnessed.”

10 years later, grass grows in the cracked asphalt where the bridge used to be, and the new municipality of Butternut Valley is renewing residents’ calls for a replacement. Mayor Alan Brown said the only remaining access over the Canaan between Youngs Cove and Havelock is through a bailey bridge on Macdonald Road, which creates issues for fire department access as well as economic development.

“We’re not really asking for them to rebuild the covered bridge again,” Brown said. “It’s just about time that we had a reliable and accessible crossing.”

Brown said the municipality is creating development plans for the area around Exit 365 on Highway 2, and there is interest, but developers “need a reliable crossing.” He also said the lack of emergency access “puts a risk on things.”

“It’s holding back, we have the potential for development,” Brown said, saying a pre-feasibility study had favourable results. “We see that area as having potential, there’s 30,000 cars going by that exit every day.”

Black said there are washouts on other culverts and other road issues “all around us.” When the remaining bridge goes out, “there’s nothing,” she said.

“We are in such a horrible shape for any EMO vehicles to get in here,” she said. The roads are provincially managed, meaning residents pay a portion of their property taxes directly for maintenance.

Black said local residents fought hard at the time of the bridge collapse, and a petition was presented to Gagetown-Petitcodiac MLA Ross Wetmore.

“We took up a petition … we took name after names after names,” she said. “We were promised a bridge, and I could not believe it to this day that we are 10 years without a bridge. I never knew that a bridge could be political.”

The Canaan River is seen from the location of the former Cherryvale covered bridge.

The area became part of Wetmore’s riding following the fall 2014 election, when the Brian Gallant Liberals came to power.

The Progressive Conservative MLA said he had meetings but “didn’t seem to get too far” with the department of transportation. He said the federal government would have made disaster assistance funds available to cover 90 per cent of the costs.

In advance of the 2018 election, he said he brought it to then-opposition-leader Blaine Higgs’ attention, and that Higgs seemed “on board” with the project if federal money was available.

In a 2017 op-ed, Higgs criticized the decision not to replace the bridge, and to demolish and replace the Hammond River covered bridge, writing “let’s keep covered bridges part of the picture in our picture province.”

But after Higgs was elected, Wetmore said it “fell through the cracks” and said it was difficult to get “any traction” with senior management at DTI.

“I know constituents wanted it,” Wetmore said, citing the tourism benefits. “I see nothing but upsides, but I’m only one man.”

Brunswick News made a request for comment to the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure and did not receive a response by press time.

Brown said he’s had discussions this spring with DTI Minister Richard Ames and Labour Minister Greg Turner, responsible for economic development.

“We’ve been putting it out there on the radar for the provincial politicians, and we’re really hoping that something in the near future can be done,” he said, saying pilings and a bailey bridge could be a solution.

Wetmore said at this point, “the only way” he saw the bridge being built is for Butternut Valley to make it a priority and find funding, whether from federal or provincial cash or raising taxes.

Brown said the the municipality, formed from unincorporated areas during 2023 local government reform, is too new to attempt the project on its own.

“(It’s) a monumental task we’re not prepared for at this time,” he said. He said the federal funding is no longer on the table, and it’s “disappointing” that the money was available and never acted on.

When asked whether a municipality would have helped had it been in place to advocate for the area, Brown replied, “I like to think that something would have happened.”

Wetmore isn’t too sure, saying that the bridge committee was “one of the more active groups that I’ve dealt with.” He said that with a negative staff recommendation, it would have been unlikely to be approved.

“I don’t know if there’s anything different that could have been done,” he said. “I don’t think there was any appetite from DTI to replace it, even if it had been free.”

Black said Wetmore fought hard, but agreed there seemed to be no appetite from the province. She said it’s “a no-brainer.”

“We worked so hard for this, and when the disaster funds were there, that was the time for them to go,” she said.

“A bridge goes out, a bridge goes back in, everywhere else they have done that but here.”

By Andrew Bates, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Apr 17, 2024 at 16:05

This item reprinted with permission from   Telegraph-Journal   Saint John, New Brunswick
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