By Daniel R. Pearce, Simcoe Reformer
Tuesday, July 21, 2015 4:21:14 EDT PM
Fish spawning grounds in Long Point marsh will be given a boost once two culverts are built underneath the causeway dividing the wetland from the inner bay, says the head of the project.
The passageways will allow the marsh to be “flushed” regularly as storms push water underneath the roadway and it flows back into the bay days later, said Rick Levick, project manager for the Long Point Causeway Improvement Project.
“We’re putting (the marsh) back to the way nature designed it,” said Levick. “It’s deteriorating. It’s stagnant . . . It’s the right thing to do.”
Decades ago the causeway, which connects the mainland to the long narrow sand strip known as Long Point, was a series of bridges, and water exchanged freely underneath it.
But in the 1950s the roadway was filled in as the bridges started to fail, and water flow was blocked, Levick explained.
The result, he said, was the weakening of fish habitat, particularly for the muskie, which will now have the chance to make a comeback.
It also inadvertently led to more silt being deposited in the bay. Water from the marsh moves into the bay at a high rate of speed through the one narrow remaining opening, carrying silt from Big Creek with it.
Now water from the creek will slow down because it’s not being forced through a single opening, fan out throughout the marsh, and deposit silt there before moving into the bay, Levick said.
Work will begin on the first culvert at the south end of the roadway in late fall, while the second one, at the north end where Highway 59 meets the causeway, will be built in late 2016, he said.
The job will bring the number of culverts to 10 the project has brought to the causeway in recent years. Most of them are dry and designed to let wildlife, turtles in particular, cross from the marsh to the bay safely.
Kilometres of green woven plastic fencing have also been erected along the causeway to prevent turtles, frogs, and snakes from crossing the road and direct them to the culverts.
In the past, the causeway was considered to be one of the worst spots for turtle roadkill in North America.
Since the project began, wildlife losses have dropped by half, said Levick.
The final phase of the project will take place at the far north end of the causeway. It will include two more culverts for wildlife passage – bringing the total number of culverts to 12 – and more fencing.
Recent studies show that section of the causeway to be a high roadkill spot, Levick said.
Funding for the next two culverts is being provided in part from a $580,000 federal government grant from the National Wetland Conservation Fund. The rest of the $900,000 bill will come from other sources, including the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.
The project is also waiting to hear back about a grant from an American group called the U.S. National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, said Levick.