A wetland destroyed on the sly in an industrial park in Trois-Rivières

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A wetland destroyed on the sly in an industrial park in Trois-Rivières

Last summer, the municipal council opposed industrial development in the Carrefour 40-55. At the same time, without the elected officials being informed, backfilling work was underway.

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Backfilling work took place on the grounds of the Elmec factory, without the city council being officially notified.

North of Highway 40, Trois-Rivières has 26.6 hectares of wetlands and peat bogs that a majority of elected municipal officials want to protect. However, the City plans to destroy about fifteen hectares of it, with the authorization of the Quebec Ministry of the Environment, to enlarge the Carrefour 40-55 industrial park, which would be intended to accommodate businesses. green.

Radio-Canada has learned that part of the wetland was the subject of backfilling work without a building permit at the end of the summer and during the fall of 2021. Several municipal councilors to whom we informed the news say they are surprised or angry.

The director of planning and sustainable development at the City of Trois-Rivières, Dominic Thibeault, confirms that work took place even before the issuance of the building permit which was requested and issued on September 29, 2021.

These are things that happen, we obviously try to avoid that as much as possible, but in this case, indeed, it's something that happened, says Dominic Thibeault.

The possible carrying out of work on these lands has been the subject of criticism from elected officials from Trois-Rivières and the population. In August 2021, 9 out of 14 municipal councilors had refused that the City go ahead with drainage work on the site covered by an environmental authorization certificate obtained from the ministry in 2014, before the overhaul of the law governing the destruction of wetlands in Quebec.

The works which required the backfilling of a wet ground will allow the establishment of a factory of the manufacturer of electric terminals Elmec on the boulevard Louis-Loranger.

Reached on the phone, the owner of Elmec, Jean-Marc Pittet, insists, he had the authorization of the Ministry of the Environment to go ahead. If the Ministry of the Environment has decided that this land is buildable, it is they who decide, affirms the businessman who argues that economic development necessarily implies the destruction of the environment.

“There are three frogs, who cares about the three frogs at any given time. »

— Jean-Marc Pittet, owner of Elmec

The employees, the engineers who work with me, the salaries I pay, they will [use them for] grocery shopping, says Mr. Pittet, who prefers his products to be made in Quebec rather than elsewhere in the world.< /p>

Radio-Canada contacted a dozen municipal councilors who were in office in 2019. None of them remembered having been informed of this situation. Some said they were surprised, others downright indignant like François Bélisle and Pierre-Luc Fortin.

“To learn that there is work that has been done without our knowledge when this area [when] we had very clearly said in council that there would be no industrial activity in a wetland, I find that extremely disappointing, deplorable. »

— Pierre-Luc Fortin, municipal councilor for the Estacades district

Pierre-Luc Fortin adds that he repeated the question in plenary session on June 7, to find out if work had been carried out in the area covered by the environmental authorization certificate and that he had been told no. The Pointe-du-Lac sector councilor agrees. I didn't know, I never knew about that, he said.

It shocks me and it's not the first time [that this kind of situation happens], we have the impression of replaying in a bad film, deplores François Bélisle. In recent years, advisors have often been the last to know.

François Bélisle is left with the impression that senior civil servants who want the Carrefour 40-55 to develop choose not to tell elected officials everything.

We always asked the damn question [ whether work had been done in this area covered by the environmental authorization certificate]. Each time, we were told, no, it does not affect [this area], it means that from there you have to trust the administration, says the municipal councilor for the district of Pointe-de -Lac, François Bélisle.

The City of Trois-Rivières wishes to expand the Carrefour 40-55 industrial park on land with wetlands.

The senior official at the City of Trois-Rivières Dominic Thibeault affirms that he did not have to inform the elected officials that work was in progress since everything was in accordance with the regulations. It's simply an issue of permits, elected officials are not kept informed of all the permits that are issued on the territory when it is compliant, he says.

M. Thibeault was not able to say when exactly the backfilling took place. He indicates that no inspector or City employee went on site to monitor the work since it was not required, according to him.

The director of planning and sustainable development at the City explains that the debate was less heated in August 2021 and denies having withheld information from elected officials who asked if work had been carried out on land protected so far.

It's true that there was no work to establish infrastructure or extend the street because that land was already served [by the public transport network]. #x27;aqueduct and sewers], he justifies before admitting that it is possible that the information was omitted in a discussion.

Questioned to know if Mayor Jean Lamarche had been informed of the situation, Mr. Thibeault answers: definitely, without however being able to specify if it was before, during or after the backfilling. Mayor Jean Lamarche was not available to answer our questions.

The destruction of this part of the wetland now allows the City to keep its environmental authorization certificate.

Last March, the Ministry of the Environment and the Fight against Climate Change asked the City for proof that work had been carried out within the two-year period following a request to modify the certificate which it approved in January 2020.

The evidence sent by Dominic Thibeault, and of which Radio-Canada obtained a copy under the access to information law, is an undated aerial map as well as the unsigned building permit form dated September 29, 2021.

The orange line corresponds to the limit of the area targeted by the environmental authorization certificate. The area in red is where the backfilling work was carried out.

Former City of Trois-Rivières clerk Gilles Poulin was repeatedly confronted with work done without a permit during his decades-long career.

However, this is a non-compliant, irregular and reprehensible practice according to him. There are not two laws, there is only one law which is the same for everyone and we generally do not tolerate work being done without a permit, the lawyer is indignant.

If [getting] a permit has become a commonplace act, anyone will improvise things and the City discredits itself by not enforcing regulations or by applying them nonchalantly or perhaps even with favouritism, he adds.

Gilles Poulin also wonders about the rigor of the ministry, which is satisfied with imprecise and unsigned documents to maintain the authorization to destroy the environment.

“The Ministry of the Environment is there to protect the environment and protect a common public good and it must, in my opinion, be rigorous, particularly in wetlands. »

— Gilles Poulin, former clerk at the City of Trois-Rivières

The Precious Land group, which opposes the Carrefour 40-55 expansion project, considers that it is an affront to democracy and is offended that this work carried out without the knowledge of elected officials make it possible to avoid the revocation of the environmental authorization certificate.

When we understood that this work had been done after the democratic refusal of the municipal council in August 2021 and that a permit appeared in September, it questions us about the strength of democracy in Trois-Rivières, reports spokesperson Philippe Duhamel.

There is someone somewhere who knew and who did not want to say, adds Mr. Duhamel. We find that disturbing; really it's time for there to be more transparency on all of these issues in the city of Trois-Rivières.

Precious land s&#x27 ;concerned that the City is unable to specify the date of the work because it was its role to ensure compliance with the conditions set out in the environmental authorization certificate.

To destroy part of this environment, there are very strict conditions, how do we ensure that these rules are respected, wonders Philippe Duhamel.

Precious Earth hopes that green companies that have the environment at heart will refuse to set up at Carrefour 40-55.

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