Kate Sherren

Landscapes - People - Global change

Tag: place (page 1 of 3)

Mactaquac commentary abounds

In the months leading up to the Mactaquac decision, the editorial pages of the Telegraph Journal is filling up with opinion pieces. Early in May, Keith Helmuth of the Woodstock Sustainable Energy Research group (who was an expert at our citizen jury) spoke out for dam removal, looking towards more efficient, greener energy options for the same investment and a boon for agricultural production. LarryJewett of Lakeway Houseboat Rental on the headpond (who rented us the houseboats we used for floating focus groups in 2013), and Friends of Mactaquac Lake, responded to support the rebuilding of the dam and generating station, for the local amenity it has become. Since then, Peter Cronin of the Atlantic Salmon Federation has responded to both in a two part commentary (1 and 2), supporting dam removal to foster a healthy river and restore fish stocks, among other things. While TJ has a firewall, as a subscriber the commentaries are just as interesting. A recent blog post on the NiCHE website by once-NB now-Maine environmental historian, Mark McLaughlin, uses our Before the Mactaquac Dam storymap to illustrate the need for academics to avoid focusing on stories of environmental decline: dams dramatically change landscapes and ecosystems, but are the exception among infrastructure in creating new amenity. I’m heading next week to the ISSRM meeting in Michigan, where I am co-convening a five-session stream on energy landscapes and transitions, which will examine just such trade-offs.

If I were NB Power …

The previous post received a constructive reply from George Porter, head of the Mactaquac project for NB Power. He gave responses to some of the explicit questions I asked (excerpted with permission):

Q             Who would own the land uncovered if the dam was removed?‎

A             NB Power owns the vast majority of this property and is taking no position at this time as to what it would do with the land after a dam removal.  Should the dam be removed, NB Power anticipates that an extensive multi-party planning exercise would be undertaken to establish an appropriate approach to land disposition, development, and use.

Q             How might post-dam remediation proceed and how long does it typically take to stabilize and green up?

A             This is explored in detail in the draft Comparative Environmental Review report posted online September 21, 2015. Chapter 9 is available for you here.

Q             What is left down there, in terms of infrastructure, cultural sites, or sediments (and their associated environmental legacies such as chemical residue or toxins from upriver industry and agriculture)?

A             Some of these subjects are being explored by the Canadian Rivers Institute. As their research is completed it is being made public on their website.

Q             How do the First Nations communities feel?

A             It would not be appropriate for NB Power to unilaterally assess and articulate how the first nations feel about the project.‎  Since 2013, NB Power has been engaging with First Nations in a separate and deliberate process to ensure their rights and interests are considered in advance of the recommended path forward.

He also invited further explanation of my critique, as well as suggestions for how to improve the process. I sat down on the weekend to reply. Here is the full text of my response.

Dam houseboat tour paper out

The Mactaquac houseboat flow-cus (floatus?) group team in August 2013: Beckley, Sherren, Keilty, Demerchant, Mittelholtz, Gutierrez Hermelo and Marmura (clockwise from top left).

The Mactaquac houseboat group team in August 2013 (clockwise from top left): Beckley, Sherren, Keilty (researchers), Demerchant (boat pilot), Mittelholtz, Gutierrez Hermelo and Marmura (videographers).

Back in August 2013, we ran three houseboat tours of the Mactaquac headpond, to elicit locals’ perspectives on the landscape and what they would like to see for its future. A paper about that work, Learning (or living) to love the landscapes of hydroelectricity in Canada: Eliciting local perspectives on the Mactaquac Dam via headpond boat tours, is now out in Energy Research and Social Science (free for 50 days at this link). This was a novel research approach that presented undeniable technical challenges, but generated rich stories of the place and their connection to it, some of which were produced into a short documentary, Mactaquac Revisited.

Despite the trauma that accompanied the construction of the dam in the late 1960s, the local population has demonstrably adapted and come to cherish the new landscape: the need to rebuild the dam, with power or not, was almost unanimously expressed in the focus group elements. In the landscape elicitation, however, done alone or in smaller groups, many people expressed a nostalgia for the old river, and even occasionally an openness to seeing it returned to that state. In fact, it was the misinformation and fear we heard on the boats about what the removal option entailed that inspired our storymap, Before the Mactaquac Dam. This paper shows (again) the adaptability of people to drastic landscape change such as caused by hydroelectricity, where some amenity can be found. The implications of this for proponents of hydroelectricity (and other large-scale energy) schemes is more fraught: “You’ll get used to it” is clearly an inadequate response to stakeholder concerns, yet clearly it is sometimes true.


The cover of my copy of Waterland, picked up by someone who knows me well at a secondhand book sale.

The cover of my copy of Waterland, picked up by someone who knows me well at a secondhand book sale.

I recently re-read Waterland, by Graham Swift, which won the Booker Prize in 1983. It’s a remarkable combination of fenland geography, biographical mythology, environmental/industrial history, and thriller. I think you may need to be into wetlands to get through some of his passages, and certainly be comfortable with a fragmented temporal axis, but it is my kind of storytelling. It is funny – there’s this wonderful bit where he discusses how flat landscapes like the fenlands encourage lustiness – and the main characters are solid. As with much of what I record here, I also see parallels between my recreational reading and my research. This is a book about place, cultural landscapes, and adaptation. In the wake of my more recent research on dykelands, for instance, a late passage seemed particularly interesting upon this second read:

There’s this thing called progress. But it doesn’t progress. It doesn’t go anywhere. Because as progress progresses the world can slip away. It’s progress if you can stop the world slipping away. My humble model for progress is the reclamation of land. Which is repeatedly, never-endingly retrieving what is lost. A dogged and vigilant business. A dull yet valuable business. A hard, inglorious business. But you shouldn’t go mistaking the reclamation of land for the building of empires. (p. 291)


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