Landowners concerned about the passage of a high-pressure underground
pipeline through their backyards fear a watchdog committee set up to oversee
the TransQuebec Maritime project will be more vigilant in looking out for the
company's interests than those of the public.
Known as the PNGTS extension, the controversial 213-kilometre natural gas
pipeline will ship gas from TQM's facilities in Lachennie to a connection point
with the Portland Natural Gas Transmission System (PNGTS) along the New
Hampshire/Quebec border on its way to Portland, Maine.
TQM yesterday released a list of watchdog committee members for Section 3 of
the pipeline which crosses the Townships from Waterloo to East Hereford. Six
of the 12 members on the list work directly for the pipeline promoter.
A spokesman for a coalition of landowners opposed to the pipeline said the
committee includes TQM negotiators who were accused of spreading
misinformation about the project, as well as a representatives from the Union
des Producteurs farm union which many farmers feel failed to represent their
interests during hearings by Quebec's environmental assessment agency and
farmland protection board.
The committee also includes two TQM pipeline officials, two members from the public including a merchant and a farmer, a representative from the two local MRCs crossed by the pipeline, bureaucrats from the Environment and Public Security ministries, as well as the construction co-ordinator for the project.
"Obviously the landowners had no input on this," said coalition spokesman Norman Benoit, adding that none of those named to the committee took part in public hearings about the project.
"They have been named by TQM," he said. "It's not a democratic process. This is just meant to put the people to sleep a little more."
But PNGTS spokesman Jean Simard, who faxed the information to the media a few minutes after five p.m. yesterday, said the committee is there to ensure residents are kept informed during the construction of the pipeline and after it begins to transport gas through the Townships.
Simard added that landowners opposed to the project could not be included on the committee because it would be responsible for dealing with complaints. He said the two members of the public on the committee, neither of whom is directly affected by the line, were selected after consulting with the MRC, the farmer's union, the Chamber of Commerce and other groups in the region.
Simard said tht vigilance committees, one for each of three stretches of the pipeline in Quebec, were one of the requirements for TQM to obtain the final go-ahead from the federal government. He said they are responsible for establishing a process to deal with public complaints and to ensure citizens receive all the information they request during construction.
After that, the vigilance committees are supposed to deal with issues such as preventing people from trespassing and advising residents about potential risks once it begins transporting natural gas, Simard said.
Despite criticisms, Simard insisted that TQM negotiators on the committee are really there to look out for the interests of landowners.
"Their job right now is to ensure that all of the work confirms to agreements signed with landowners," he said, adding that the construction co-ordinator must also sit on the committee because 90 per cent of the complaints will be dealt with directly on the construction site.
Residents can get in touch with the vigilance committee by calling PNGTS communications service at 819-346-1666 or 1-888-954-9525.
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