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MRC moves to restrain illegal dumping

Daniel Green is well-known in Quebec as the head of the Société pour Vaincre la Pollution (SVP), which has tracked all forms of water contamination in the province for 40 years. This courtroom and scientific water expert says that when it comes to construction waste dumping, the situation is much graver than just a few bad apples sending out or accepting loads of unsuitable or toxic construction waste. “The Haut-Saint-Laurent is just a case in point. We’re now seeing a quasi-criminal class using the lax enforcement capacities of Environment Quebec to contaminate agricultural areas close to Montreal.”

There are others, but since 2016, around the time the situation began out here, SVP has been tracking sites in the lower Laurentians, Kanesetake, Sainte-Placide, Saint-André-d’Argenteuil, and more. These are all sites with proven toxic waste traced back to the sources. Green says, “We are seeing a criminalization involving toxic soils,” and adds that the various bodies charged with protecting soils and water “are outgunned. … The Ministry has lost control of movement of contaminated soils. Even though they’ve promised for three years to do something, at the end of the day I can only conclude our Ministry of the Environment here is an abject failure. They intervene too late … after the land is ruined. And the dumpers make more money dumping contaminated soil than the government’s paltry fines.”

Meanwhile, investigation and enforcement have fallen upon passing citizens and small villages.

Green says, “Dealing with this situation is not up to the MRCs and local mayors; they don’t have the tools. Because this is organized crime doing illicit transport, it’s in and out, and all the municipal inspectors can do is report that mountains of soil have been dumped. The damage has been done.” Ormstown mayor Christine McAleer says, “We certainly don’t have the means or the staff to deal with a situation that’s so widespread and continuous! Our MNA was approached and told of this situation, but [there was] no reaction at all from them to help in any way.”

Slowing the flow

The MRC has crafted a bylaw to at least slow the flow of toxins and other material being deposited close to all municipal wells. Bylaw 327-2022 has been created to prohibit fill activities in water catchment protection areas (category 1 and 2) as defined by the Regulation respecting water catchment and protection within the territory of the MRC du Haut-Saint-Laurent.

The bylaw was adopted on September 21 but won’t go into effect until it is approved by the province. Pierre Caza, the director general of the MRC, says this regulation is the most that an MRC can do for now. It was patterned on the new dumping controls introduced in Franklin, and it levies fines (basically $1,000 a day, doubling every day of infraction) on those who dump illegally. This is the same methodology, and even the same amounts, levied by Franklin, but now it will extend to the whole MRC.

The hope is that all legal and remedial costs being levied on the properties accepting the fill will help with deterrence. Caza says, “If things change, we can expand the bylaw.” He reiterated that those receiving the material illegally “will have to remove it at their own expense.”

The new regulation has also put many bureaucratic hurdles in place that a would-be dumper must jump, including allowing inspection and providing provenance of the dumping material they plan to use, with free access to the property for municipal inspectors checking in during the work and, of course, all remediation costs falling on the landowner.

However, the objective of the interim control bylaw – with its design depicting a few hundred metres of distance be between any kind of fill and a town’s municipal well (nothing is said of private ones, which remain unprotected)  is to protect the aquifer. Green says that the MRC’s separate measurements per town well, depending on hydrologist recommendations, are a start; but an aquifer’s contents can travel very long distances depending on its depth and flow, the nature of the soil, and even weather issues like heavy rain or snow. That puts a lot of responsibility on the small, protected circles depicted in the MRC’s new bylaw.

There are solutions, and they would require protecting entire recharge zones, not just smaller areas within them, very quickly. Other places have gone further, according to Green: “Michigan, for example, has developed land-use plans to protect aquifers, and Quebec claims [it] wants to get there.” In his opinion, since town water is currently most at risk, the next move would be for municipalities to make a formal access of information request for more monitoring wells. Mayor McAleer is trying. She says of the Ormstown water supply, “We’re continuing to test water from the monitoring wells and are waiting for a test taken on the runoff.”

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