The Havelock municipal council has issued a statement making clear its stance with regard to the possible implementation of an asphalt plant on Covey Hill. “Although it is an obligation to uphold the law, it is the unanimous position of the Municipality of the Township of Havelock municipal council to oppose the installation of an asphalt factory on Covey Hill Road in Havelock.”
The council goes on to state that “It is the hope of the council that the Quebec Ministry of the Environment and the CPTAQ, who are the custodians of the decision making powers, do, in fact, exercise their authority, judgement and evaluation of this project to the benefit and well-being of all citizens; and that all aspects of this project be studied efficiently and effectively as to human health, environmental, agricultural and tourism concerns, and the day-to-day needs and benefits of the local population and of those in neighbouring communities.”
The above statement follows a difficult and acrimonious meeting held July 5 outside the Havelock Town Hall. Both local news and social media are describing the great distress being felt in the entire MRC at the discovery by citizens, only the week before, of the intended implantation of an asphalt factory at the Ducharme Quarry on Covey Hill. Frustrated at not being able to voice their concerns at a normal council meeting due to Covid restrictions, more than 100 residents of Havelock and other parts of the Valley amassed at the entrance to the Town Hall last Monday. Mayor Denis Henderson read from a prepared press release before inviting questions from the crowd.
Henderson stated that the village received a request from Carrières Ducharme Inc and the Groupe Chenail concerning an asphalt factory. He said that as the quarry is located in an industrial zone, the municipality is studying the zoning regulations to see what applies. He also confirmed that “no decision has been taken regarding the matter,” and announced the municipality has turned to a lawyer to assess the situation.
Photographs taken by citizens documented the arrival of new equipment, including a big transformer, at the site in June. In his statement, Henderson said a town inspector had already visited the location and had informed Carrières Ducharme Inc. that “no activity connected to the production of asphalt has yet been authorized at this time.”
The mayor then stated that the municipality understands the community’s concern, and that it will “engage in the decision-making process with complete transparency.” The mayor was interrupted several times during this recitation by impatient citizens’ questions, many about them about timing and why they hadn’t heard of this serious development earlier. Council records show that a first application was sent in 2019 and renewed in 2020.
Perhaps the news that shocked the crowd the most came through a question from Jean-Francois Chabot, in which he explained that although Chenail Inc. had bought the quarry, they have since been bought by a group called Eurovia—and that Eurovia is part of the infamous VINCI Inc. of France. VINCI, road and building construction company, has a reputation across Europe as a bad environmental actor. It is still unclear whether Chenail Paving, Réal Chenail Inc or these European company titles are handling this property.
Because the site of the Ducharme Quarry extends to the US border, those mobilizing against it have contacted municipal and state officials in NY state, to inform them a polluting industry may be placed on the shared aquifer. Their response could mean aspects of the project might fall under federal jurisdiction; in which case the MP for Salaberry-Suroît, Claude DeBellefeuille, has said she would become involved. She has written to the Havelock mayor, saying “Many citizens reached out to share with me their fears about the project… They need to be informed.”
Some of the information demanded at the meeting was to know: why here? Henderson explained that it is because of the stone in the quarry, a necessary component of asphalt. VINCI owns another quarry in nearby Sainte-Clotilde and also one in Saint-Remi. There were concerns about noise, smells and increased traffic on fragile country roads.
Francine Bourdeau brought about the most enthusiastic response when she said that although she lives in Saint-Antoine-Abbé, she had come to the rally “because this mountain, Covey Hill, is the centre of this community and of great importance to all of us, not just Havelock.” She then addressed the elected representatives, to loud applause, “We demand that you do your very best to avoid this project here.”
Sharon de Gaspé Powers said that since the mayor has known about this project for so long, why hadn’t he informed the citizens? “What have you done for the community as its leader? Because allowing such heavy industry into our area will change everything.” Henderson responded that the promotors are required to hold consultations with citizens and that the CPTAQ and the Ministry of Environment have power over granting permission.
Some at the rally were emotional about how dangerous it is to allow such an historically proven polluting industry on top of the Covey Hill aquifer, the water supply for many communities and individuals in both the MRC du Haut-Saint-Laurent and the MRC des Jardins-de-Napierville. Louise Dauphinais from Hemmingford pointed out that “this foul-smelling, noisy factory will be on the Circuit des Paysans, the very route cyclists and tourists love because it’s so beautiful and peaceful. Tourism, farming, orchards, everything, the entire economy of our area will be adversely affected.”
Denise Lavoie, who runs a vineyard and boutique near the quarry, said: “We called our place Domaine des Salamandres because we have these rare creatures on Covey Hill. How can we protect them if we let such industries in?”
Resident Pascale Bourguignon questioned whether the fire hazards of an industry that deals with “poisonous and flammable materials that regularly catch fire or explode” could be addressed by a location so far from 24-hour fire stations. Henderson reassured her that “all the fire stations in the region have been notified and that they are aware of the situation and could be deployed.” This response resulted in people asking if he and the members of council had had time to discuss the matter with the fire stations, why hadn’t they informed their electorate? Tempers were flaring, and shortly after 8 pm, the mayor returned to the town hall to join his councillors.
Since the meeting however, the council have unanimously agreed to the public announcement published above. Their action is a response to many communications from citizens, including resident Wendy Ayotte, who wrote, “Please take a deep breath and reach out to us, so that together we can move forward as a community to deal with this.”
People wishing to learn more can visit: https://coveyhill.weebly.com, as well as a Facebook page: Defense protection covey hill. The Gleaner will continue to follow this story.