ZIS/SPZ: Redrawing the red line

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Above, on the eve of the 2019 flooding peak, April 26/19 composite map includes satellite-derived current water levels, plus overlays of 2017 flooding (in ocre), pre-2017 20 and 100-year lines (in blue and aqua) and predicted flood levels based on flow volume and velocity. Based on this, authorities predicted water level at Ste. Anne de Bellevue would top 25 metres above sea level on April 28. (It stopped at 24.55 — the 2017 level.)
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Above, part of Hudson’s special protection zone as decreed in the June 17 order in council. In Hudson’s case, the red line was derived from drone images taken at the flood’s peak, confirmed in certain locations by GPS camera images captured by a photographer walking the floodline.
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July 15/19: revised ZIS/SPZ map places Hudson Yacht Club, Jack Layton Park and most of Sandy Beach and half of Quarry Point in the red zone. Hudson was the first municipality in Quebec to adopt a bylaw banning new construction and restricting reconstruction in the 20-100 flood zone.

In a brilliantly choreographed show of strategic contrition, the Legault government has taken barely a month to walk back its threat to shut down waterfront development in flood zones.

Well, sort of walked it back. All municipalities now have the competency to allow owners of at-risk properties to ‘immunize’ their dwellings with waterproof foundations. Some, like Ste. Marthe-sur-le-lac,  will continue to protect flood-prone developments with dikes, levees and seawalls. Red-line surveillance will be up to regional government — MRCs and the 82-municipality Montreal Metropolitan Community. 

Is this CAQ contrition pivot a variant on the same old political game? I don’t think so. Even if the CAQ walks it back by 50%, the red line is changing everything. I attended the July 4 public consult at the Chateau Vaudreuil, where stories of cancelled home insurance and blocked real estate deals resonated with a skeptical crowd. The sitting ducks at the front of the room were from the ministries of the environment, municipal affairs and public security. We wondered whether they were paid extra to absorb the verbal beating.

Interesting facts emerged in the course of the three-hour marathon, well emceed by Duncan Campbell. The meeting began with an admission by the environment ministry’s Nathalie Provost that there were many inaccuracies in the original June 17 red zone mapping; they would be corrected on the basis of submissions by municipalities and individuals. A revised version of the red line was promised for July 17 and a deadline for revisions set for Aug. 17. MRCs will be allowed to lift the ZIS/SPZ in specific municipalities once the ministry is satisfied. A provincewide “elaboration of land use planning action pertaining to flooding” policy will be in place by Dec. 19.

Quebec’s unforced admission and revision commitment didn’t stop people from emoting about the trauma of having their high, dry home arbitrarily placed in the red zone. Several Hudson residents expressed their concern at the vagueness of the process. Others gave vent to variations on a popular flood conspiracy theory — that Hydro Quebec deliberately held back water in its Ottawa River reservoirs in order to be able to sell more subsidized power to the Americans. Many who spoke at last Thursday’s meeting voiced fear this government will cover up the conspiracy while downloading financial and social costs of Hydro’s complicity onto municipalities and their citizens.

Many from the Lake St. Francis side of Vaudreuil-Soulanges were there to point out obvious flaws in the red-line mapping and to demand their correction. (With major hydro dams at each end, Lake St. Francis water levels don’t tend to fluctuate.) St. Anicet mayor Gino Moretti led a delegation of townspeople demanding that their town’s waterfront be removed from the red line. “We have memories going back nine generations […] nobody can recall it flooding.” Moretti told the room.  Earlier, Moretti told me his town risked losing up to 20% of its valuation. “Why is Lac Saint-François in the flood zone? It never floods.”.

Those in the hall supplied other disturbing facts, like the dumping of thousands of tonnes of rock into the shallow, rocky channel between Vaudreuil-Dorion and Pincourt. It was the cheapest place to dump spoil from the construction of the new Champlain Bridge but it had the effect of raising water levels upstream.

A St. Stanislas resident wondered whether the scientific basis of the red line was tainted by the use of addresses of people who may have received flood compensation. For a crowd fixated on a vision of incompetent bureaucrats running amuk with red markers, it was more grist for the mill.

Some petitioners attempted surfing on the crowd’s emotional waves, like the Hudson resident wondering whether the red line should be extended to eco-sensitive wetlands and forests of interest. Why, he wondered, would Quebec not compensate municipalities for keeping their wetlands and greenspaces undeveloped?

How did the red line get decided? It’s a story told in maps.

At the top of this page is a map generated from overlays of 2017-2019 satellite data and a comparison of flow rates. It was supplied to Vaudreuil-Soulanges MRC municipalities on Friday, April 26 as civil protection authorities were grappling with the suddenness of the rise in water levels. Sandbagging and other protection measures began earlier in 2017, partly because the Legault CAQ was insisting to us that it was done subsidizing bailouts for victims of repeat flooding. Hudson was among the many Vaudreuil-Soulanges municipalities reluctant to spend money without knowing whether Quebec would reimburse legitimate flood-related expenses.  Elected officials were discouraged from calling in the military to sandbag private property; in retrospect, we should have used their equipment and manpower to install jersey barriers — sectional concrete dividers — to break the waves and hold back the surge of debris in several sectors of town.

In hindsight, there wasn’t much that Hudson and other shoreline municipalities could have done to hold back the Ottawa. Above-average snowfalls, a late thaw and heavy spring rains filled rivers throughout eastern Canada. Dozens overflowed their banks, flooding low-lying areas along the Ottawa, Chaudière, Saint-Maurice, Saint John and St. François. Civil protection authorities in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes were overwhelmed.  Municipalities all over eastern Canada were demanding federal and provincial assistance to armour key installations and evacuate/shelter flood refugees.

The Ottawa is Quebec’s worst headache because it threatens Greater Montreal and thousands living in flood-prone areas at the conjunction of the St. Lawrence. Flow rates in the St. Lawrence are monitored and controlled by the International Joint Commission, which balances competing demands from municipalities, industry and commercial shipping interests with a mix of dams, dikes, locks and control structures.

The Ottawa River Regulating Committee’s charter is based on the IJC, but there’s more than one cook in this kitchen. Hydro-Québec oversees operation of five dams and reservoirs; Ontario Power oversees three.  Government Services Canada is responsible for two more, while Environnement Québec runs the three centrals on the Lièvre River.

Before heading to the Chateau Vaudreuil, I ran into Wharf Road resident Richard Grinnell at the Hudson IGA. Like thousands of waterfront residents touched by this spring’s repeat of the 2017 flooding on the Ottawa River, Grinnell believes deliberate decisions taken by Hydro Quebec and other dam operators were factors in two catastrophic floods in three years.

He cites Hydro’s own data to show it didn’t release enough water from its reservoirs in in the springs of 2017 and 2019 to create adequate capacity for record runoff from heavy rain atop multiple layers of ice built up over a winter of freeze/thaw cycles. Two bad winters in three years should be all the proof anyone needs to demand an inquiry into the practices of public utilities and their role in the 2017 and 2019 flooding.

Third parties and NGOs such as the Ottawa Riverkeepers don’t agree, noting the absence of large reservoirs that would allow a stakeholder to assume control. Water levels and streamflow data on the Ottawa River and its tributaries are overseen by the Ottawa River Regulation Planning Board (ORRPB), created in 1983 to: “endeavour to ensure that the integrated management of the principal reservoirs of the Ottawa River basin provides protection against flooding along the Ottawa River and its tributaries, and particularly in the Montreal region and thereby augments the principle of ‘no less protection’ to downstream interests contained in the International Joint Commission’s orders of approval for regulation of Lake Ontario.”

One’s actions must not impact on anyone living downstream.

The ORBB has compiled Carillon dam streamflow data since 1964, the year the dam was completed.  One can easily compare annual peaks, lows and means for every month of every year the dam has operated. Average peak flows over the first four months of high-water years range between 2,960 cubic metres/second in 1981 and 3,261 metres/second in 2017. In 2019, the four-month average was 3,051 cubic metres/second. The only trend  I can see is a gradual increase in flow rates since 1964, suggesting that more runoff is feeding the Ottawa River watershed.

Hudson counts some 200 homes touched in some way by the 2017 and 2019 flooding. Some 60 of those were turned into more or less dry islands rendered inaccessible by flooded, eroding debris-covered private roads. Another 34 were flooded to the extent that Hydro Quebec cut their power at the transformer to protect life and limb. Driving around town at the flood’s peak, we saw Main Road cut from the ferry eastward, with close encroachment of the water next to Finnegan’s and at the foot of Montée Manson. We lost Wharf, Halcro and all or part of a dozen other public and private streets. Already, construction and renovation projects are being affected by the red line. Clearly, the red line raises concerns about the resiliency of the Pine Beach project as currently configured.

In 2018, this council adopted a new-construction ban between the 20 and 100-year floodlines. As the water rose again this spring, we realized  the need to establish a high-water mark that could stand up in court. As the water rose, the town hired a drone to trace the high-water line along the 12 kilometres of shoreline. It also hired a photographer with a GPS-co-ordinated camera to validate the drone’s flight at ground level in certain sectors. The results were shared with the ministry compiling the red zone map. As you can see by comparing the second and third maps, there are minor differences between the June 17 and July 15 versions.

I can grasp the desperation of someone like Pincourt resident Robin Pope. She and her husband sold their lakefront home on the condition the buyer is able to build a garage. After buying their dream lot nearby and planning construction of their new home, the red line decreed by the June 17 order in council placed their old house on the edge of Pincourt’s red zone and killed their buyer’s plans for a garage. Everything is frozen. “Our houses are our economic safety nets, Pope told the sympathetic crowd. “You’ve cut us off at the knees.”

This is the dilemma we face. Should Hudson concentrate expenditures on its municipal structures — lift public roads and sewage pumping stations and ensure the resiliency of our water, sewer and drainage systems? Raising Main Road at Finnegan’s, the ferry and Montee Manson would cost hundreds of thousands; is it a worthwhile investment? Is there a cheaper, more resilient way of repairing the installations at Jack Layton Park and Sandy Beach? Should the public purse be opened to assist in floodproofing private neighbourhoods and cul-de-sacs? The money has to come from somewhere and at this point in the 2019 budget, has to come out of something else.  On the other hand, waterfront real estate represents a big chunk of Hudson’s roughly $12 million in tax revenues; does it make economic sense to participate in shared-cost projects (raising low-lying streets, adding wave protection) to safeguard that investment?

It would be great if Hydro agreed to foot part of the the bill but I can’t see that happening in Quebec in 2019.  The trouble with conspiracy theories: they’re hard to prove. Maybe Hydro-Quebec is a guilty party in a civil action. To what degree? 25%? 50%? Solely and totally guilty? Say a judge approves a class action lawsuit. How long will it take to get to court, to go to appeal or settled out of court? Longer than it takes people to get on with their lives.

That is what will decide the red line. Hard, verifiable data, presented by a good lawyer. Those with money and perseverence might see a payoff. I favour negotiation and common sense.

Good advice update:

The original ZIS/SPZ red line included part of District 5 resident Diane Piacente’s Hudson lakefront property. Piacente, one of the Hudson residents at the packed Chateau Vaudreuil public forum, followed advice given out. “I sent an email to the email address provided and sent photos of the waterfront, my fence (which sits on the 100). [They show] how far the house is, the pool, the shed and kayaks. Also sent scanned copy of certificate of location showing flood lines.”

Piacente thinks the town should have explained the process to its citizens sooner. ” This was a serious issue, especially if you are trying to sell your house, extremely stressful for those concerned. “Sure, you have until August 19 to notify the government if you are in the red zone and shouldn’t be but if you were in their shoes wouldn’t you like to have this settled sooner than later? Glad they are listening and fixing.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Neonics: a pretense at control?

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Urban beekeeper Alexandre McLean, Tribune jeunesse president Louis-Philip Prévost and municipal councillor Michèle Arseneault inaugurate four urban hives in St. Bruno’s parc Frère-Marcel-Alary. (stbruno.ca/ruches)

The question above reflects a discussion in Canadian municipalities over how far they can or should go in regulating neonicitinoid pesticides, the insect-killing family of chemicals similar to tobacco’s active ingredient. 

At its monthly meeting April 15, St. Bruno de Montarville’s municipal council instituted a blanket ban on neonicotinoid pesticide use within its urban perimeter. St. Bruno’s move extends a March 6 edict from Quebec’s environment ministry banning the use of neonics on lawns and greenspaces within urban centres. In St. Bruno, neonics were already banned in certain sensitive zones and near schools and daycares. The Town hasn’t used pesticides on its public greenspaces for more than 25 years. 

St. Bruno mayor Martin Murray: « Tout comme nos citoyens, nous sommes préoccupés par le déclin des abeilles. Un tiers des aliments retrouvés dans nos assiettes dépend de leur travail de pollinisation. Ainsi, nous croyons qu’il est important d’interdire tout néonicotinoïde en milieu urbain. Cette mesure s’ajoute aux autres actions qui ont vu le jour à Saint-Bruno visant à protéger les colonies d’abeilles : les ruches urbaines au parc du Frère-Marcel-Alary, l’hôtel à insectes au parc Duquesne et l’intégration de fleurs et arbustes favorisant les pollinisateurs sur le territoire de la ville. »

In 2015, concern over declining honeybee populations prompted St. Bruno to mandate local honey producer Miel Larüche to instal four urban hives in parc Frère-Marcel-Alary. The hives each produce approximately 40 kilos of honey a year. The aim: to raise awareness among St. Bruno residents of the importance of pollinators to Quebec’s food supply and diversity. 

One reason why St. Bruno, like hundreds of other municipalities across Canada, isn’t likely to extend the ban to cover the entire municipality — Mount Bruno Country Club, a lovely old-school course nestled into Mount Bruno’s southern flank. Like all private golf courses in Quebec, Mount Bruno Country Club may or may not use neonicitinoid pesticides. Quebec’s pesticide laws don’t require that information to be made public.

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From The Guardian: a 2018 study shows why neonics are lethal to honeybees and other pollinating insects.

Neonicotinoid pesticides are prohibited throughout the European Union and in other countries as well as in several U.S. states because of a growing body of research-based concerns about harmful effects on mammals and birds. Because they are water-soluble and slow to degrade, there is growing concern that neonics used on arable land are percolating into the aquifer and concentrating there at growing levels, thereby building up in the food chain.

Quebec has led Canadian action on banning the domestic use of agricultural chemicals, thanks to fearless voices like Hudson’s late Dr. June Irwin (immortalized in documentary filmmaker Paul Tukey’s A Chemical Reaction). 

In 1998, the Town of Hudson was victorious in a 10-year legal struggle with the lawn-maintenance industry and their chemical-industry backers. The fight went to the Supreme Court where Justice Claire l’Heureux-Dubé’s majority-decision ruling evoked  the precautionary principle — do no harm. In practical terms, L’Heureux-Dubé’s ruling meant that unless the safety of a chemical can be established scientifically for a specific usage, the prudent course of action is to ban its use for that purpose. 

The anti-neonic campaign in Quebec peaked in December 2015, when Montreal banned all neonicotinoids – without exception – on all properties within the city limits, including the Botanical Garden, all agricultural areas and all golf courses, drawing pushback from the chemical industry and agribusiness. 

Since then, the industry has successfully lobbied a succession of governments for whom the environment isn’t as big an issue as it once was. Testing protocols were revised. Existing bans, such as that of 2,4-D, were reversed. Documentation became unavailable.

Under Quebec’s original pesticide regulations, golf courses were required to submit annual reports on pesticide use and make them available to municipalities as well as to the environment ministry. The aim was to encourage the industry to strive for year-over-year reductions in their use of insecticides, herbicides and fungicides in exchange for the privilege of continuing their unregulated use.

It hasn’t worked that way. There is anecdotal evidence that not only has the golf industry been unable to reduce its addiction to pesticide use, but climate change and golfers’ demand for perfect greens and fairways have pushed courses to use more herbicides, pesticides and fungicides. 

Worse, there appears to have been a change of heart at the federal and provincial levels when it comes to ensuring the licencing process is transparent and usage statistics are available to the public.   

As a private citizen, I set out in March to obtain information on golf course pesticide use in my community from the Environment and Fight against Climate Change ministry. It took me half a dozen calls to hit the wall. My answer from a regional environment ministry functionary in Longueuil: some documents are accessible to the public, others are not available, while others I would have to obtain from third parties — the end users themselves.

I pushed for an explanation why usage data once retrievable from the ministry’s own website is now either either unavailable or subject to an Access to Information request. I never got one. 

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Agronomist Louis Robert is well-known throughout Quebec for his expertise on soil and seedlings — and on the effects of agricultural chemicals. He was fired last year for revealing the role the pesticide industry plays in determining what agricultural chemicals are in use on farms throughout the province.

While I was chasing data on pesticide use, a bigger battle was raging. Louis Robert, a Quebec agronomist in the employ of the agriculture ministry, was fired last year for exposing private sector interference in government studies into pesticide use.

 With Robert now seeking election as the head of the provincial association of agronomists, the Legault caquistes are looking to control political fallout from the worst black eye they’ve suffered since being elected. The bureaucracy’s interpretation of that order has been to block or control the flow of information. Without accurate information about who is using what and in what amount, meaningful municipal pesticide discussion is impossible.

Robert continues his assault on the agricultural chemical lobby. Earlier this month, he alleged in a RadCan interview that Quebec farmers are the heaviest users of chemical fertilizers in North America — and as with pesticides, the private sector’s influence on public policy is the reason. 

Louise and I pushed our MP Peter Schiefke for the process behind the federal government’s re-approval of the popular herbicide glysophate (Roundup).  He told us the federal government had mandated an arms-length group of researchers to review scientific literature on glysophate to determine whether the science supporting its licencing was sound. They gave it their thumbs up. 

So, in the absence of proof to the contrary, we’ll assume glysophate is okay in Canada even though U.S. civil-damages juries have approved multimillion-dollar payouts to sick or dying golf industry employees and their families. So much for Justice L’Heureux-Dubé’s precautionary principle.

There’s a part of me that sympathizes with the golf industry. I grew up caddying, then learning to play at Whitlock. Golf courses are Hudson’s biggest employers and I’m guessing it’s the same story in many residential municipalities. A 2016 Mount Bruno Country Club post seeking a golf course superintendent exemplifies the tightrope the industry has to walk (my boldface): 

—Providing agronomic direction to maintain the golf course at the highest level of playing conditions attainable in our climate.

— Following industry standards for the healthy growth of the golf course grasses, trees and other applicable plant materials.

—Developing and implementing programs for turfgrass, material and chemical maintenance and asset management.

Establishing good working relationships with regulatory bodies.

Golfers paying thousands or tens of thousands for membership want perfection. That means emerald-green fairways and flawless greens. If they don’t find their Eden, they’ll walk and take their monthly meal tab to a course able to maintain a higher standard. Why risk losing members to a no-pesticides policy? Stick to industry standards, keep the bureaucrats happy and nobody gets hurt.

Nobody, unless one believes the outliers who believe intensive use of agricultural chemicals on golf courses pose a serious risk to employees, players — and maybe to the municipalities they’re located in.

Environmental filmmaker Andrew Nisker’s 2017 documentary Dad and the Dandelions (The Nature of Things, CBC) questions whether his father’s exposure to pesticides might have led to the non-Hodgkins’ lymphoma that took him — and sickened other golf course employees he spoke with. One of the doctors Nisker interviews practices in Collingwood, a rural community on Georgian Bay. He’s seeing the same cancers and other illnesses among golfers as he sees in his farmers— and both cohorts top the provincial risk list.

Nisker visits two pesticide-free courses, one in Martha’s Vineyard, the other in St. Andrew’s, Scotland. The Martha’s Vineyard course depends on the right blend of indigenous grasses and traditional remedies like dish soap and white vinegar. St. Andrew’s has daisies and the occasional cow pie. 

The best line is the response to Nisker’s question to the Old Course’s retired groundkeeper: what would be the reaction of players if the Old Course was transported to North America. 

Fire the groundkeeper!

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Concrete barriers at the entrance to St. Bruno’s parc du Frère-Marcel-Alary.

Quebec’s latest rules regarding neonics:

Municipalities:

— As of March 8 2019, ban the retail sale and professional application of neonics for use on grass in urban areas — except on golf courses.  

— Permits the retail sale of biopesticides and synthetic pyrethrins, now classed as Group 5 pesticides posing little risk;

— Places further controls on the sale of mixed pesticides for domestic use;

— Permits the injection of pesticides to control Emerald Ash Borer near daycares and schools.

— Permits the domestic use of pesticides containing D-phenothrine and tetramethrine against wasps, hornets and bees near daycares and schools.

Agriculture: 

— Neonics, long used to coat seeds so they don’t get eaten by pests before they sprout, are approved for use on oats, barley, wheat, soybeans, canola, feed, seed and table corn — but are subject to stricter storage and usage controls.

— Neonic retail sales will be subject to a tighter permit system to ensure they are not sold for cosmetic use. For example, retail transactions will now require signed authorization from a licenced agronomist. 

— Existing regulations regarding wetland and watercourse protection and overspray prevention will be applied with greater rigour. 

— Farmers must keep registers of neonic usage; wholesalers must declare annual sales.

Industry: 

— Permits will now be required for fumigation with sulfuryl fluoride, magnesium phosphate;

— Railways and other transport corridors will no longer be required to remit the Ministry a report on pesicide application;

— All commercial pesticide purchases, sales and applications must be recorded on forms for that purpose; the registry no longer wants to see invoices or purchase orders.

Hudson’s selfie

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From the Montreal Metropolitan Community’s Portraits territoriaux, Édition 2019: Hudson’s protected zones total 1,452 hectares, including the Ottawa riverbed (in black).

How are Hudson and its 5,192 residents planning for the future? Are we making wise decisions in regards to our physical and social development? Are those choices in harmony with trends in the Montreal Metropolitan Community (CMM) and our region of Vaudreuil-Soulanges?

Check out the latest CMM profile of Hudson (CMM Hudson portrait 71100). 

In just 13 pages, this statistical selfie condemns the Town of Hudson to a slow decline of abandoned homes and impoverished seniors, the cumulative result of our ongoing failure to plan for the approaching post-baby boom demographic implosion.

Some assumptions are nonsensical, like the hypothetical disappearance of 235 of Hudson’s 2240 households between 2017 and 2031. In Hudson, houses are demolished when they’re flooded out or the land is more valuable than the structure occupying it. Addresses don’t stop existing. Garbage in, garbage out.

There’s plenty of cause for concern. The CMM stats point to an approaching affordable-housing crisis for Hudson’s least affluent residents. The 2015 median (half below, half above) income for single-person households was $31,000 compared to a CMM median of $33,000. Ten per cent of Hudson’s residents live below the poverty line. Some 70 households living in rental properties are struggling. Some 265 households spend 30% or more of their gross income on housing. Of those, 140 spend more than half; 35 households are eligible for subsidized rents.

Hudson is doing very little to accommodate the shift to affordable housing. Of the 94 social/affordable housing units listed in the CMM profile, zero are through the provincial AccesLogis program, zero are public low-cost housing units. (I assume the 94 represent Manoir Cavagnal units built under a federal CMHC program which continues to burden the administrators with ludicrous lending terms.)

Tied to that is a stagnation in housing starts. According to the CMM, Hudson issued permits for 19 housing starts in 2018, including three townhouses and zero apartments. We saw the same number in 2009 and 2017. Hudson’s best-ever year was 2015, with 44 starts. The worst was the 11 starts in 2016.

Other data gives cause for hope. Close to 16 per cent of Hudson’s population is listed as recent immigrants. That compares to 25% in the CMM as a whole, but it says to me the Lester B. Pearson School Board and the CAQ government did us a big favour by locating one of their new four-year-old kindergarten programs at Mount Pleasant Elementary School. I see Habitation Robert’s 134-door Willowbrook project as a natural feeder as more and more of Quebec’s mixed anglo/franco marriages confer eligibility to English public schooling.

Another cause for hope is Hudson’s labour and employment profile. The employment rate for active members of the labour force aged 15 and over is almost 57%. (Across the CMM’s 82 municipalities, the employment rate stands at 61%.) According to 2018 data, Hudson is home to 182 businesses. Retail employs the largest number of people by sector — 235. Teaching accounts for 210 jobs, followed by professional, scientific and technical services (195 jobs). Health and social services are tied with arts and culture, with 175 jobs apiece.

Well over half of Hudson’s 182 businesses (104 to be exact) employ between one and four people. Another 37 provide work for five to nine; 24 employ 10-19 and 13 others employ 20-49. Two businesses employ between 50 and 99 people, while two others provide jobs for between 100 and 199 employees.

In terms of mobility, the CMM portrait has not evolved. More than 78% of Hudson residents depend on the automobile to get around. Just over 8.2% use public transit, while  8.9% commute on foot. Among non-residents coming to Hudson, 68% travel by car, 22% by other motorized means (motorcycle, scooter, boat) and 9% hoof it. Employment-related trips account for 16% of displacements from Hudson and 12.8% of the trips into town. Education represents 10.6% of trips made by Hudsonites and 15% of trips by non-residents. A third of all trips made by Hudsonites are within the town, while 55% are to CMM destinations (45% to Montreal, 9.4% to the South shore, 10% outside the CMM).

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According to the Montreal Metropolitan Community’s latest snapshot of its 82 municipalities, almost 60 per cent of Hudson’s footprint is protected. According to this, the protected area extends halfway across the Ottawa River.

The CMM saves the best for last in its environmental assessment. Hudson’s forest canopy — a measure of mature tree health throughout the municipality — accounted for 1,282 hectares in 2017, 60% of the town’s total land area. Woodlots and green corridors represent 425 hectares, 20% of the town’s total forest cover. Protected agricultural land accounts for 1,289 hectares; wetlands represent 184.5 hectares. Including agricultural lands and conservation areas, Hudson’s protected areas represent 1,452 hectares — almost 60% of Hudson’s total footprint.

Footnote: Waste management data shows considerable room for improvement. While Hudson had a 65% blue-box recycling rate in 2016, we’re falling down on organics, with a 15.8% recycling rate. That was before Hudson initiated the brown bin collections, leaving one to wonder why they bothered to include data they knew was outdated.

What does the PMAD say about densification and transport-oriented development?http://cmm.qc.ca/fileadmin/user_upload/pmad2012/documentation/20120813_PMAD_eng.pdf

 

 

 

V-S REM: Stupid not to extend

 

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Technical summary of Ile aux Tourtes bridge reconstruction. Note unassigned grey lanes in the centre, logical placement of double LRT line — possibly but not necessarily the REM.

Last week I attended a Ministry of Transport briefing on plans to replace the Ile aux Tourtes bridge by 2031.  In the 12-year meantime, the MoT proposes to keep the 55-year-old span open for the 86,000 vehicles a day it carries (their estimate). The new bridge will be built to accommodate a light rail commuter system down the road. Extending the Réseau express métropolitain (REM) to Vaudreuil-Soulanges was not part of the agenda. Encouraging off-island residents to use existing public transit was.

As currently configured, the 26-station automated electric light rail transit (LRT) system will begin service in 2021 and extend the western line to Ste. Anne de Bellevue two years later. The $6B network will link Montreal, Laval, the north and south shores — but not Vaudreuil-Soulanges and its 160,000 residents.

Our meeting was with Chantal Rouleau, the junior minister of transport as well the minister responsible for Greater Montreal in François Legault’s Coalition Avenir Québec cabinet.  She’s new to the National Assembly but she’s known in Montreal municipal politics, both as Pointe aux Trembles borough mayor and for her involvement in east-end sustainable development initiatives.

I was there to represent the Town of Hudson. Beside me were a representative of Greg Kelley’s Jacques-Cartier riding office, someone from Vaudreuil MNA Marie-Claude Nicholls’s office, Senneville’s general manager and Louise Craig, co-founder (with St. Lazare councillor Genevieve Lachance) of the Le REM dans/in Vaudreuil-Soulanges Facebook page.

While the West Island has been a part of the bridge discussion for some time, Vaudreuil-Soulanges is new to the table. And late. I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say the future of Vaudreuil-Soulanges will increasingly depend on fast, convenient public transit, both for 74% of the 160,000 residents who commute onto the island and for potential employees looking to commute to Vaudreuil-Soulanges to work. The Vaudreuil-Soulanges hospital has been promised by the end of 2026, creating 4,000 good jobs. 

We all know off-island and island traffic congestion is worsening.  INRIX, a global traffic-metrics provider, estimates the average commute into the city takes 75 minutes in optimal rush-hour conditions and often tops three hours both ways. The cost in lost hours of productivity is evidenced by the number of trucking firms relocating to Vaudreuil-Soulanges, strategically located at the junctions of highways 20,30 and 40.

For me, the idea of extending the REM to Vaudreuil-Soulanges is the logical thing to do.  Three years ago, I asked former Hudson councillor Tom Birch whether he thought the MTQ would include an LRT line in the design for the new span. “They’d be stupid not to,” Birch said. (Read Will Hudson miss the train again? WP blog June 27/17)

“Stupid not to” became the rallying cry for the creators of Le REM dans/in Vaudreuil-Soulanges, the Facebook page now approaching 1,000 followers. A series of radio, TV, print and online stories that resulted from St. Lazare’s adoption of a motion of support for extending the REM generated enough pressure to convince Vaudreuil-Soulanges MRC mayors to adopt unanimously a resolution to that effect. On Monday last, Hudson became the second MRC municipality to pass a motion similar to St. Lazare’s.

The CAQ government’s reaction to all this pressure was delivered at the March 6 briefing and news conference we were attending. On the minister’s side of the table were Soulanges (and Hudson’s) CAQ MNA Marilyne Picard and half a dozen MoT staff. A technical sheet on the bridge replacement was handed out. Rouleau described it as a concept, not a final plan. Eight lanes of traffic, two for buses only three in the direction of rush-hour traffic) and a re-engineering of both approaches to the span so that buses have priority. On the bridge’s north side (toward Vaudreuil-Dorion) a walkway will provide cyclists and pedestrians a lake view.

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IAT replacement critical path will include two public hearings March 18, March 27, followed by an environmental impact study. Public participation at this stage will determine what will be on the table at environmental impact hearings.

A REM extension to Vaudreuil-Soulanges via the new bridge didn’t come up until we asked. The replacement bridge, Rouleau told us, will be designed and built to carry “heavy public transit” — trains. She conceded it could be the REM — or it could be another technology adapted from one of many countries wrestling with the same traffic congestion. Until then. the minister added, “the bus is the best means we have” to move people to and from the REM terminal in Ste. Anne.

Rouleau was questioned on the logic of expecting a parent to rush his or her child to daycare, then drive to the bus station, park, then take a bus to the REM. Off-islanders need their vehicles anyway, so they’ll put up with traffic congestion instead of jostling for a seat. She was pushed on what will be done to expedite the flood of off-islanders wanting to board the REM, especially now that Ste. Anne’s mayor has insisted on fewer parking spaces and no interest in seeing her town’s streets clogged with new traffic.

The minister would hear none of it.  Our shared objective should be to turn drivers into riders before the REM opens and she urged us to start the ball rolling. “Your work will be to convince people not to use their cars…our roads can’t take more.”

At least she assured us her government has no plans to charge tolls.

Rouleau would not venture a date for an LRT line on the bridge. Before that happens, she said, this  government plans to encourage drivers to use public transit through exo, the agency now operating all train, bus and metro lines in the Montreal Metropolitan Community. Rouleau suggested additional trains on the Hudson/Vaudreuil line and more express buses like the A40 service between the Vaudreuil exo station and the Côte Vertu metro.

Feeling strongly about the REM and the future of public transit in Vaudreuil-Soulanges? The Ministry of Transport has scheduled two public consultations over the next two weeks. The first, next Monday March 18 is at the Centre Multisports, 3093 boul. de la Gare in Vaudreuil-Dorion between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. The second is scheduled for 4-8 p.m. Wednesday March 27 at Senneville’s George McLeish Community Centre, 20 Morningside Ave. 

Technically, it’s not asking a lot to plan and build the new bridge to be able to carry an LRT line at some point in the future. They’re having to replace the old bridge anyway; it opened in 1965 and will be well past its 50-year lifespan by the time the new bridge is ready. While MoT insists it’s safe, maintenance is costing too much.

Politically, I can see that promising an LRT line to Vaudreuil-Soulanges as part of the new bridge may present a problem for the CAQ.

This government’s heartland straddles Montreal’s North and South shore past Quebec City.  It’s the reason Dev V-S, Vaudreuil-Soulanges’s economic development arm, is said by some to be beating its head against the wall for a transport-oriented industrial park in the county. Bécancoeur wants exclusivity and it’s part of the CAQ heartland. So are a dozen other fast-growing municipalities with traffic congestion, long commutes and fewer public transit options than Vaudreuil-Soulanges.

The CAQ inherits its political DNA from the Parti Action Démocratique, co-founded by Mario Dumont and Jean Allaire in the early ’90s. The ADQ was hyper-local, attracting its share of colourful candidates but not many votes as it wandered in the political wilderness. As the Coalition Avenir Québec, and with a pragmatic leader in François Legault, the party has moved the ball in every election before scoring a majority government a year ago. There’s no time to waste in acknowledging those years of support from regions where CAQ loyalists kept the party alive.

Clearly, it doesn’t hurt that Soulanges is represented by a CAQ candidate. (Legault himself made the announcement of Marilyne Picard’s candidacy at l’Auberge des Gallant last fall.) So far, Legault’s CAQ has been good for Vaudreuil-Soulanges. A 404-bed $1.5B regional hospital, promised by a succession of Liberal governments for a decade, was hurriedly announced by then premier Philippe Couillard and his health minister Gaètan Barrette immediately prior to last year’s election after Louise Craig talked Legault’s people into scheduling a news conference the following week at Whitlock Golf and Country Club. 

I asked Rouleau to confirm the new bridge project will be subject to hearings conducted by the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE). She said it would. My theory: the MoT decided to announce the LRT-capable bridge because its people knew extending the REM via the bridge would be an issue in environmental hearings. (Over half of the participants in a public consultation last fall told the provincial environment ministry they want to see a REM extension made part of the environmental impact assessment process. (Extend the REM, public consult urges, Feb. 5/19).)

There’s another question unanswered: once the REM extends to Ste. Anne, will exo and its ARTM overseers maintain the Vaudreuil-Hudson line in operation?  The REM’s electric trains will start at 5 a.m. and run until late, every 2 1/2 minutes during peak hours, every 5 minutes in between. Its financial model depends on moving full trains from the outset. I can’t see exo keeping that line in operation once it starts losing riders to the REM.

This is where Vaudreuil-Dorion and Hudson part ways. Mayor Guy Pilon, while voting in favour of the MRC motion in support of a REM on the bridge, expressed concern over how costs would be shared. Pilon is playing his own game. The other week he showed me how easily the REM could be extended to his city so that shuttlebuses from all over the region could pick up or drop off passengers without getting hung up in boul. de la Gare traffic. He keeps bugging me about getting Hudson to close the rail line between Vaudreuil and Hudson and turn it into a walking/cycling corridor. I remind him that the train a day each way is Hudson’s only negotiating tool as exo sets out to reorganize the MCC’s public transit networks and Pilon looks to make Vaudreuil-Dorion the region’s transit hub. We’re grandfathered, just like Vaudreuil-Dorion is grandfathered. 

At this point the V-S REM has been diverted to a siding. Rouleau, by kicking the REM can down the road, buys her government 12 years of not having to bother with the file while transferring responsibility to hapless Vaudreuil-Soulanges commuters to find their own solution. Given the fickle nature of the Vaudreuil-Soulanges electorate, I don’t think it’s an orientation with legs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fore!

When did statistics on golf course pesticide use become unavailable?

Was it before or after Quebec agronomist Louis Robert was fired for blowing the whistle on the chemical industry’s role in financing and vetting pesticide risk studies?

On Jan. 28, I captured the above screen shot of a page on the MELCC website.

On Feb. 27, almost exactly a month later, I tried to replicate the same screen capture. Below is the result.

An MELCC spokesperson told me to file an Access to Information request since this information is not publicly available.

Since when, I asked him.

They have never been public, he told me.

So what happened to the live buttons shown on the Jan. 28 Before shot?

 

As of next Wednesday, March 6, changes to Quebec’s pesticide law will ban the domestic and commercial use of neonicotinoids, a group of pesticides linked to declining bee populations, but with two controversial exceptions — golf courses and cropseed producers.

Quebec’s not-so-blanket neonic ban covers imidacloprid, the world’s most widely used insecticide and its iterations: acetamiprid, clothianidin, imidacloprid, nitenpyram, nithiazine, thiacloprid and thiamethoxam. All are prohibited throughout the European Union and in other countries as well as in several U.S. states because of a growing body of research-based concerns about harmful effects on mammals and birds. 

Because they are water-soluble and slow to degrade, there are concerns that neonics used on arable land are percolating into the aquifer and concentrating there at growing levels, thereby building up in the food chain.

Quebec has led Canadian action on banning neonics. Quebec was first to enact pesticide controls, thanks to people like Hudson’s Dr. June Irwin. In December 2015, Montreal banned all neonicotinoids – without exception – on all properties within the city limits, including the Botanical Garden, all agricultural areas and all golf courses, drawing pushback from the chemical industry and agribusiness. 

Under existing regulations, golf courses are required to submit annual reports on pesticide use and make them available to municipalities as well as to the environment ministry. The aim was to encourage golf courses to strive for year-over-year reductions in their use of insecticides, herbicides and fungicides in exchange for the privilege of continuing their unregulated use.

There is some evidence suggesting that not only has the golf industry been unable to reduce pesticide use, but climate change and golfers’ demand for perfect greens and fairways have pushed courses to use more instead of less.

The Ministry of the Environment and the Fight against Climate Change (MELCC) offers no explanation for the the policy shift. Instead, the MELCC pesticides page promises tighter controls and increased supervision for the rest of us.

Municipalities:

— As of March 8 2019, ban the retail sale and professional application of neonics for use on grass in urban areas — except on golf courses.  

— Permits the retail sale of biopesticides and synthetic pyrethrins, now classed as Group 5 pesticides posing little risk;

— Places further controls on the sale of mixed pesticides for domestic use;

— Permits the injection of pesticides to control Emerald Ash Borer near daycares and schools.

— Permits the domestic use of pesticides containing D-phenothrine and tetramethrine against wasps, hornets and bees near daycares and schools.

Agriculture: 

— Neonics, long used to coat seeds so they don’t get eaten before they sprout, are approved for use on oats, barley, wheat, soybeans, canola, feed, seed and table corn — but are subject to stricter storage and usage controls.

— Neonic retail sales will be subject to a tighter permit system to ensure they are not sold for cosmetic use. For example, retail transactions will now require signed authorization from a licenced agronomist. 

— Existing regulations regarding wetland and watercourse protection and overspray prevention will be applied with greater rigour. 

— Farmers must keep registers of neonic usage; wholesalers must declare annual sales.

Industry: 

— Permits will now be required for fumigation with sulfuryl fluoride, magnesium phosphate;

— Railways and other transport corridors will no longer be required to remit the Ministry a report on pesicide application;

— All commercial pesticide purchases, sales and applications must be recorded on forms for that purpose; the registry no longer wants to see invoices or purchase orders.

 

Lost in congestion

INRIX 2018’s global traffic scorecard tells us a lot about what’s happening to the average Canadian commute. For the second year, Toronto can moan about Canada’s worst traffic congestion. Hogtown, 19th worst traffic city in the world, traded places with Washington, D.C. (now 20). Montreal sits alone in 34th; Calgary lags at 60th.

It may not seem like it, but Montreal’s traffic congestion has been improving in relation to its worst-traffic competitors. Montreal is down from 28th last year; in 2014, it was Canada’s worst traffic town, with construction and traffic jams adding up to a 21.6% delay and an average of 38.1 hours lost.  Internationally, Montreal’s traffic moves faster than it does in Rostov-on-Don. Montreal traffic is worse than Hamburg’s, where the time lost in congestion costs the average motorist more than 1,200 euros annually.

Congestion now costs the average Montreal driver 145 hours annually, says INRIX’s 2018 scorecard. That’s 15% better than in 2017. Montreal drivers average 12 km/hr in the final mile of their commute. The cost of congestion per driver isn’t available from the data collected in  Montreal, but we can compare ourselves to Los Angeles (47th, 128 hours lost to congestion), with an average cost per driver of $1,785. Average speed for that last mile: a blistering 14 km/h. Yes, L.A. traffic is less congested than Montreal’s. (Boston, #8 worldwide, has North America’s worst traffic, with the average driver losing 164 hours to congestion.) 

How does INRIX know all this? INRIX is a metadata consumer located on the U.S. west coast. It tracks the tower-to-tower handoffs of hundreds of millions of cellphones worldwide and uses movement data to determine at what rate traffic is moving in major cities. You don’t even have to be using your phone to be a droplet in the oceans of data INRIX feeds on.

INRIX began in 2005 and has been on a roll since. INRIX’s Roadway Analysis team works with cities, transport authorities and their agencies. INRIX traffic engineers and programmers produce software for in-vehicle navigation and location tracking systems for autonomous vehicles. In 2016, INRIX Research released its annual worldwide traffic scorecard, crunching data harvested from moving cellphones in 200 major cities around the planet.

INRIX’s scorecard is an effective marketing tool (you can bet that every newsroom in every one of those 200 cities will pick up their story) but it should be obvious it’s not scientific. The data doesn’t differentiate between cellphones riding ground-level public transit and cellphones in cars. Assuming there was a way of  separating them, would it make a big difference? Probably not, an INRIX spokesman told me some years back — buses in most cities still move at the speed of traffic.

What does any of this mean to our average Vaudreuil-Soulanges commuter? In a previous blog (Commute from Hell, Nov. 21/16) I explained how INRIX analytics work in determining average commute times and therefore the additional time lost to congestion. Two years ago, the average commute from the Bédard traffic light to the Guy off-ramp was 45-60 minutes. The ride home varied between 60 and 75 minutes. 

What I see from the latest INRIX stats is that there is no longer an average commute. Tieups are more frequent and take longer to unsnarl. The Ile aux Tourtes bridge averages an incident serious enough to halt traffic once a week. At what point does congestion become an integral part of the commute? 

This brings me to the Reseau express métropolitain (REM), the latest in a string of disappointments for Vaudreuil-Soulanges.  As I blogged last week, a preliminary environmental impact assessment found that over half of those who submitted opinions to a consultation regarding the replacement Ile aux Tourtes Bridge want the designers to consider a REM extension from Ste. Anne de Bellevue to Vaudreuil.  Current plans for the bridge show dedicated bus, cycling and pedestrian lanes — but no space for a REM extension.

The message is clear: by 2023, public transit from Vaudreuil-Soulanges will require at least one other form of transport to connect with the REM. If the Montreal Metropolitan Community (MMC) follows through with repeated threats to impose tolls on the bridges to Montreal Island, how many commuters will say ‘screw the REM’ and pay the tolls?

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Vaudreuil-Dorion Mayor Guy Pilon, Vaudreuil-Soulanges MRC DG Guy-Lin Beaudoin and MRC prefect and Rigaud mayor Réal Brazeau presenting at the Oct. 19, 2011 PMAD adoption. The lack of interest in the room symbolized the MMC’s disregard for the 150,000-resident MRC. 

Everything I see and hear infers there’s a hidden hand trying to dissuade people from moving off-island. I’ve suspected this to be the MMC’s hidden agenda since the October 2011 adoption of its master plan at the St. Constant Railway Museum. The Vaudreuil-Soulanges delegation was shown perfunctory courtesy and zero respect. I found the public shaming embarrassing. 

Oct. 19, 2011 marked the beginning of the end for Vaudreuil-Soulanges political autonomy and it’s my belief the MRC and its 23 mayors still haven’t recovered after being bigfooted by the MMC. The Charest Liberals (followed by the Couillard Liberals) supported the MMC in forcing Vaudreuil-Soulanges to bring its master plan into harmony with the PMAD, the 82-municipality MMC’s master plan. A freeze was placed on farmland dezoning, nixing the original location proposed for the new regional hospital. (Was it any coincidence when history repeated itself with the current site?)

A direct result of the PMAD, picturesque towns like Hudson were ordered to densify their downtown cores on the basis of a  spurious transport-oriented development (TOD) pretext leading to the imposition of inappropriate multi-unit projects in heritage sectors. Transport-oriented development based on a train a day each way? Who are they trying to fool?

Officially, the REM changes nothing when the Ste. Anne terminal opens in 2023. The Vaudreuil-Hudson line will continue to operate one train a day in and out of Hudson. The A40 Express will continue to run between Vaudreuil station and the Côte Vertu metro. Shuttlebus and adapted-transport services will continue to those municipalities willing to pay. But the train’s days are numbered unless Vaudreuil-Soulanges elected officials and citizens demand the level of service available to the rest of the Montreal Metropolitan Community. And so is our autonomy. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vaudreuil-Soulanges REM update

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This Facebook page has been created to advocate for the extension of the Réseau express métropolitain (REM) line to Vaudreuil-Soulanges via the new Ile aux Tourtes bridge. 

When the REM surface line to Ste. Anne de Bellevue is completed in 2023, the $6 billion, 26-station automated electric light rail transit (LRT) system will link Montreal, Laval, north and south shores — but not Vaudreuil-Soulanges, Quebec’s fastest growing MRC.

In December, the government announced that a replacement for the nearly 60-year-old Ile aux Tourtes bridge would be completed by 2030. Plans for the new bridge include dedicated bus lanes and separate corridors for cyclists and pedestrians — but no LRT corridor.

Already, proposed parking at West Island REM stations is being cut back. Autorité régionale de transport métropolitain (ARTM), the MMC’s overseer of public transit, favours active transport (walking, cycling) and local shuttlebus service.

Unless regional public transit agencies are prepared to keep operating the existing Vaudreuil-Hudson commuter rail line once the REM is in service, Vaudreuil-Soulanges and its 150,000+ residents will lose their only mass public transit link to Montreal. 

Le REM dans/in Vaudreuil-Soulanges will work to raise awareness of the need to redraw plans for the Ile aux Tourtes replacement to include a REM right of way serving Vaudreuil-Soulanges and points west.

Without access to a high-speed mass public transit system: 

– Vaudreuil-Soulanges enterprises, including the promised hospital, will struggle to attract labour. By its projected 2026 completion, the hospital will represent some 4,000 jobs;

– Vaudreuil-Soulanges residents will continue to be at the mercy of Montreal’s worsening traffic chaos and the eventuality of tolls;

– the Montreal Metropolitan Community will have missed the opportunity to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the fight against climate change, a keystone of the MMC’s master plan.