Again this month, several concerned citizens reported a new dumping site on a farm on the Grimshaw Road, which is receiving tonnes of material from long lines of very large trucks. Franklin sent an inspector to the site where, once again, it was established that no permit had been obtained. Dumping has ceased for the moment. However, at the sensitive Rang Dumas site not far away, dumping was allowed to resume following the municipality’s tests showing that material was mostly clean fill, with “only 8 to 10 per cent broken brick and cement,” according to Franklin’s director general, Simon St. Michel. Although that site is in Franklin’s territory, further tests have been conducted by Ormstown, since the area is not far from its town wells. Those tests include analysing the water underlying the site and the deeper areas of the new material.
Meanwhile, on the small Grimshaw Road during the week of September 9, very heavy double trucks bearing the logo of a major excavation and construction company were lined up – with as many as 15 to 20 trucks per day entering the site.
At the Franklin council meeting on Monday, September 12, chaired by Mark Blair (Mayor Yves Metras was absent), the council was asked why Franklin seems to be the focal point of this activity. Councillor Eric Payette noted that there is dumping in other towns as well, such as Saint-Constant, and indeed several areas of our MRC are also receiving, perhaps not as much, but a great deal of such unknown fill.
Blair announced that a new regulation, enabling the municipality to charge landowners receiving illegal dumping between $500 and $2,000 every day, took effect September 15. There were smaller fines already issued in Franklin for illegal dumping, but they had not seemed to deter property owners from pursuing the activity. The new amounts will be doubled for repeat offenders; full details are on Franklin’s website. Legal and other fees incurred by the town would be incorporated into the fines.
As for the testing done by Ormstown on the Rang Dumas site, Ormstown mayor Christine McAleer says, “We are awaiting the results to compare the different sets of tests.” She says she feels landowners need to be urgently educated on whether the fill they allow on personal property is dangerous or not. “They might trust any documents the dumping company gives them,” without realizing that it is not dumpers but property owners who will be held responsible under the law. The heavy costs of removing contaminated material and the restoration of destroyed wetlands, as well as fines and legal costs, will all fall upon the landowners.
The aquifer that supplies water to all in this MRC, the recharge of which lies under “the Rock” or “le Rocher” on Route 201 between Franklin and Saint-Chrysostome, is the most important in the region. It nourishes not just town water and private wells, but the entire agricultural economy as well.
“We think of the Mercier situation,” McAleer says. Almost 50 years later, taxpayers are still paying millions to try to remedy that toxic catastrophe. Having made the comparison, Ormstown’s mayor says that “People think the water in their wells is somehow separate from the water in wells miles away, [but] there is the possibility of contaminating far more than one well – they all drain into one another!”
Franklin council is defending its position on the Rang Dumas site, because it has judged the fill to be acceptable. However, provincial government studies reveal that even “clean” fill dumped on an aquifer recharge hinders the aquifer’s ability to receive and store water. When porous rock and wetlands are capped with fill – already to the depth of several metres on Route 201 – rain is prevented from trickling down through the rock to replenish the area’s water supply. This means the current rash of dumping potentially threatens not just water quality, but water quantity.
There are new regulations, announced back in 2018, that were supposed to have construction waste tracked as it came out of Montreal and other urban areas, forcing companies to take it to approved sites. But that law appears to have never been enforced, given the number of dump trucks still being seen in rural areas surrounding the city. “How can a town of 4000 people afford the personnel and resources to track this activity?” asks McAleer, adding that she feels the situation should be an election issue.
A retired geographer, William Hansen, who has been helping amass material for a McGill project on the Chateauguay Valley watershed and its aquifer, says that compared to Mercier, “We have similar baseline conditions … Serious known toxins that exceed ‘allowable’ levels have been dumped over the porous recharge zone of an aquifer supplying clean water to a significant urban [and rural] population.”
Hansen adds, “Fifty years after Mercier, Environment Quebec still can’t get it right, act with alacrity, or proactively stop this sort of environmental crime … The dumped waste must be removed to a provincially regulated toxic waste site, not glossed over with more inept regulations.”