Paul Chiasson The Canadian Press Organizations and citizens have written to the Minister Minister of the Environment Steven Guilbeault to launch an environmental impact study for the Lac-Mégantic railway bypass project.
Organizations and citizens are asking the federal Minister of the Environment to initiate an environmental impact study of the Lac-Mégantic railway bypass project. They fear in particular the repercussions on drinking water resources and wetlands.
They sent Minister Steven Guilbeault a letter on Monday, of which The Canadian Press obtained a copy.
An independent impact assessment is requested, while “no independent and thorough environmental assessment has been carried out”, it says.
Among other criticisms of the project, the safety level of the route of the bypass is considered lower than that of the current route. They also claim that the cost of the project has skyrocketed from $133 million in 2019 to nearly $1 billion in 2022.
The municipality of Frontenac, the Union of Forest Producers of Southern Quebec, the Federation of the Union of Agricultural Producers (UPA) of Estrie, Eau Secours, the Regional Council of the Environment of Estrie and the Coalition of Collateral Victims (CVC) – which brings together nearly 300 members – are thus united to denounce the chosen route, which is not the best according to experts, they say.
Recall that a project of bypass was set up following the train tragedy of July 6, 2013, in which 47 people lost their lives. A train filled with crude oil rolled down a slope upstream from Lac-Mégantic before derailing in the middle of town, triggering explosions and a huge fire.
The proposed 12.5 km bypass route passes through the municipalities of Nantes, Lac-Mégantic and Frontenac, in the MRC du Granit, Estrie.
“Experts say the proposed route is more dangerous than the current route, indicates Kurt Lucas, one of the members of the coalition. There are three more curves, the same slopes as with the current layout, the speed will increase from 10 miles per hour to 40 miles per hour or 65 km/h. »
Another member of the CVC, Yolande Boulet Boulanger, points out that the route of the bypass always passes through town, near industries and residences.
On the environmental side, Mr. Lucas recalls that The Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement du Québec did assess the project in 2019, but that this was done “before the geotechnical and hydrological studies (were) being carried out”, the letter reads. /p>
The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) asked the Central Maine and Quebec Railway (CMQ) — owned by Canadian Pacific (CP) — for an “updated environmental effects assessment” on December 13. last. This assessment has still not been provided, according to an update from the OTC published on February 9.
The groups fear consequences on the natural environments that would be crossed by the bypass as well as on drinking water supply. And the whole thing further compromises the idea of ”social healing” carried by the bypass project, they plead.
“It is estimated that more than 500 residents of Lac-Mégantic, Nantes and Frontenac will be negatively affected by the rail bypass project (200 residences). These negative effects include noise, pollution, vibration, soil compaction, drying up of wells and contamination of drinking water,” reads the letter sent to the Minister.
Mr. Lucas points out that it is not known whether the water table, which provides drinking water to Lac-Mégantic and the surrounding area, will be affected.
“You have to dig 70% of the route at Frontenac, and with the blasting, it's clear that it will contaminate the water. […] How do you move forward with something that endangers the health and well-being of citizens? asks Mr. Lucas, who owns Frontenac and will be expropriated.
Ms. Boulet Boulanger, whose lands located on the border of Lac-Mégantic and Frontenac would be crossed by the bypass, points out that beyond the expropriation, it is the environmental risks that pose her problem.
“What bothers me the most is the fact that they are forced to dig beyond 100 feet into granite, it is lower than the water table. Then, dynamite is a contaminant, so there is fear of contamination of the groundwater,” says the farmer.
The loss of wetlands is also mentioned in the letter to Minister Guilbeault. According to the reference guide presented during the public consultations on hydrology and measures to mitigate the potential impacts of the project, in November, “construction could result in the permanent loss of up to 59 hectares of wetlands”, which corresponds to 110 football pitches.
“How is this justified, especially today when protecting wetlands and combating climate change is a government priority? write the groups in the letter, while this area corresponds to “22 times more than what has happened in the last 15 years” in terms of interventions in wetlands of the three municipalities.
< p>In addition to the impacts, Mrs. Boulet Boulanger questions the very role of the bypass.
“The accident happened because there was a lot of negligence. That does not mean that another one will happen tomorrow, says the octogenarian who lost his grandson in the tragedy. Do you know many cities where the train does not pass through? […] Mégantic has no more reason to have a bypass than any other city.
In a referendum held by the municipality of Frontenac on February 19, citizens answered 92.5% no to the question: “Do you approve of the project for the new railway bypass on Frontenac territory?
Nantes city council withdrew its support for the route of the bypass in January.
The federal government has also triggered the expropriations of the owners of land required for the construction of the railway bypass on February 13. He did not specify how many of the 43 owners concerned will be expropriated.
The Union of Agricultural Producers denounced a “brutal procedure […] with regard to the owners affected” as well as a ” atmosphere of omerta”. The UPA will hold a press conference on Friday with the Union of Forest Producers of Southern Quebec to present their arguments.