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River cleanup of Fiona damage on P.E.I. is over for now, and that's a good thing

cbc.ca logo cbc.ca 2022-11-30 Brian Higgins
Fallen conifers on Flat River posed challenges for crews with the Belfast Area Watershed Group. © Sherry Pelkey Fallen conifers on Flat River posed challenges for crews with the Belfast Area Watershed Group.

Cleanup of damage from Fiona to P.E.I. rivers will take years, but watershed staff have called it quits for now. With breeding season now underway for brook trout and salmon, crews say it's time to stand down.

"Basically you don't want to be in, stepping on where fish are laying their eggs," said David Allan, program co-ordinator with the Bedeque Bay Environmental Management Association. "You want to stay clear of those for the time being."

In the days following post-tropical storm Fiona on Sept. 24, crews across the province scrambled to clear fallen trees from streams and rivers. To buy time, the province extended buffer-zone work permits for watershed groups by two weeks, into mid-October.

That extension allowed crews to continue to work with chainsaws and other hand tools to clear obstructions in streams and repair damaged structures.

"There's a lot of devastation with a lot of fallen trees ... root systems completely taken out, " said Sherry Pelkey, co-ordinator with the Belfast Area Watershed Group.

In the Belfast area, crews made headway on two waterways — Flat River and Belle River. Much of the blockage was caused by fallen conifers, such as pine and hemlock. Crews said they saw evidence of instant results from cutting and hauling the fallen trees.

"We would remove them and then get them out of there, then we'd see small schools of fish moving through right around us," said Pelkey. "So I think they were pretty happy maybe that we came along."

Staff at West River Watershed Coalition estimate they completed cleanup of an eight-kilometre stretch of the West River around Bonshaw.

The Department of Environment, Energy and Climate Action has said it will be discussing budget needs with watershed groups this winter, as the multi-year cleanup continues.

Watershed groups said it is unlikely they would need to use heavy equipment, other than chainsaws, to complete cleanup. 

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