Magog/South Stukely, Quebec
Apparently not as many property owners as Trans Quebec & Maritime Pipeline inc.(TQM) would like people in the Eastern Townships to believe. Public hearings held over the past two weeks into the environmental aspects of a proposed 220 kilometre natural gas pipeline that would run through towns like Waterloo, South Stukely, and Katevale - to name a few - revealed many are apprehensive of the project while others are dead set against it.
As recently as three weeks ago a TQM spokesman told a Montreal newspaper that landowner Bruce Miller, who lives on a section of land called Bunker Hill near Ayer's Cliff, was the only person truly opposed to the project. The hearings, held by the bureau des audiences publiques sur l'environnement, indicated this is just not the case. What also was evident from speeches from landowners at the final meeting in the second round of hearings is that TQM officials are saying anything to give the impression that opposition to the pipeline is minimal.
Landowners, particularly in South Stukely, said they are angry over divide-and-conquer tactics used by TQM officials who tried to get them to agree to selling the land required to lay the pipeline (TQM wants to start construction in less than a year).Landowners told the commission that TQM employees have tried to convince them to sign agreements by saying neighbors had already signed and that the project was inevitable. Owners presenting briefs at Thursday's meeting said they later found out their neighbors not only didn't sign but some had -and still have - no intention of signing. "They told us 'it's coming through. It's been decided. It's only BAPE that can decide what happens to your cheque now'," Lucie Roy-Alain, an East-Hereford resident, told the commission headed by BAPE commissioner Camille Genest.
BAPE will file a report on the pipeline to the minister of environment within months. The minister will use the report to decide whether to approve the project or not. The decision from the minister's office is expected in October and many, especially in towns like Katevale and South Stukely hope it gets rejected.
People speaking at hearings said they are opposed because they have been burned by similar projects in the past. Winona Ticehurst, a school teacher representing her elderly parents who own land between the Chagnon and Orford mountain ranges, said the property has already been cut through by two sets of Hydro power lines, The Townships Autoroute, a Bell Telephone line and a gas pipeline. She told the commission that dealing with the companies that have scarred her land in the past have left her to doubt anything TQM tells her. "We no longer use one of our fields to plant corn crops, it would cost too much to rebuild the fertility they have destroyed," she said. "We are unable to build upon it because this is not allowed, and as for selling it - who wants land with a pipeline on it?"
"Why should we trust TQM?," was a sentiment echoed by almost all the landowners at the final BAPE meeting in Magog where people questioned the business practices of the company. They almost all said the company started surveying their land without asking permission. Roy-Alain said she was shocked to find a surveyor just feet from her home while she was washing dishes one morning. "There were definitely cases of people going on their land and we apologize for that," said Jean Trudelle, an engineer with Gaz Métropolitain, part of a consortium that owns TQM . "It was our sub-contractors that were doing that and we've since given them orders to ask permission before they go onto another persons land." Norman Benoit a landowner in Sainte-Catherine-de-Hatley said he's heard the apologies at all the BAPE meetings. He also said the subcontracted surveyors claim TQM gave them the full go-ahead to start surveying on private land. It seems the surveyors are the least of the concerns for most who oppose the pipeline.
In South Stukely the pipeline would run parallel to La Diligence Road. An existing pipeline and Hydro power line already scars the farms and woodlots of land owners in the area. It is along that scar that TQM wants to clear another 35 metres wide stretch of land to lay down a new line. Large "TQM, non merci" signs hang on lawns of residents who live on the road and a petition to oppose the pipeline is currently circulating through the town. A similar petition is circulating in East Hereford. More than 70 residents have signed it as has popular Quebec singer Richard Seguin.
Gary Richards, a South Stukely resident who runs his own communications company, owns a large lot of mostly untouched land that is already scarred by a gas pipeline and two hydro lines. He said the blasting from when the last pipeline was put in caused permanent damage to the land he likes to walk through daily with his Dalmatian and German Shepherd. He said large fissures began to appear in the landscape since the blasting. The chimney on his stone house, built in the 1830's, also started to crack. "And it's just criminal what Hydro Quebec has done to my ponds," said Richards. A quick walk through his property reveals the scars of big production. One pond which Richards said used to be more than an acre wide is now nearly dry.
Richards said once people let one project run a scar through their land they leave themselves wide open for other intrusions to follow. Companies like Hydro-Quebec, Bell Canada can then use the argument that your since land is already scarred they should run their equipment through as well. Richards argues that after it is scarred your land suddenly becomes a pathway for hunters, cyclists and snowmobilers. Richards just recently headed a committee that fought off a proposal from Velo-Quebec to use the scar - as it runs through South Stukely - as a bike trail. Velo- Quebec, the Memphremagog MRC and the local media made Richards and the committee out as villains while they worked to avoid being imposed on again.
As for the BAPE hearings themselves some landowners say they wonder about the effectiveness of voicing their concerns to a government that has a big stake in the pipeline going through. Hydro-Quebec recently paid $309 million to acquire 40 per cent of Norveco Inc., a privately held holding company which controls 80 per cent of the Gaz Métropolitain natural gas storage, transportation and distribution network in Quebec.
"That certainly puts TQM in a privileged position," Benoit said referring to whether the environment minister approves the route. Richards is less diplomatic. "It's like living in a Banana Republic."
Just how many municipalities support the pipeline project is unclear. A recent TQM press release stated that "over 80 per cent of the municipalities concerned have expressed support for the project." When asked to define what "expressed support" meant Trudelle said 30 or 32 of the 40 municipalities concerned "don't oppose" the pipeline. At one recent meeting a TQM official told the commission that the municipality of South Stukely supported the project only to have a person from the town shoot the notion down on the spot. The South Stukely resident read from a letter from the municipality to David Cliche informing the environment minister that the village opposes the pipeline because of potential damage TQM blasting would do to local wells.
The Memphremagog MRC said it doesn't oppose a Quebec pipeline project that goes to the U.S. border, as long as it doesn't run right through the MRCs territory as planned. The MRC submitted a not-in-my-backyard toned brief that offered alternatives it could live with, namely looping the pipeline through towns like Racine and Bromptonville and straight through Sherbrooke.
Trudelle said TQM is willing to listen to alternatives but added the Memphremagog suggestions aren't feasible. We're open to making changes in the route that causes the least impact," he said "That isn't one of them." TQM officials say they have already made 50 changes to the pipeline route since thier own consultations began in January. The Coaticook MRC said it doesn't oppose the pipeline as long as its recommendations to TQM are followed. The MRC asked for a number of changes including a request that TQMs pumping equipment, especially in East Hereford, not have a visual impact on the rural setting in the area. The MRC also wants TQM to provide more information on possible accidents caused by their equipment.
Some local Townships business groups welcome the project. TQM says its $267 million investment would help create more than 420 jobs a year. The corporation de developpement de la region d'Asbestos is one group that has given its support. Its president André Martel filed a brief to the commission supports the pipeline as, "an opportunity for the Asbestos region to grow and offer new horizons to existing and future businesses. The proposed route of the pipeline goes nowhere near the Asbestos region.
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