There are still holes in the protection of natural environments in Greater Montreal
Stéphane Boyer, Catherine Fournier and Valérie Plante, respectively mayor and mayors of Laval, Longueuil and Montreal.
Despite recent efforts, all is not rosy in the natural environments of Greater Montreal. Some of the wooded sites still do not benefit from protection. And even the protections recently put in place by the Montreal Metropolitan Community (CMM) include significant loopholes.
Métro has prepared a series of three reports on the new paradigm of environmental protection that is taking hold in Greater Montreal. Here is the third and final text.
Although CMM's Interim Control By-law (ICR) 2022-96 alone protects 17.9% of terrestrial areas of metropolitan interest, it does not guarantee their permanent protection. It aims to temporarily suspend the development of natural environments of metropolitan interest that are not protected by another measure, according to the director general and biologist of Nature Québec, Louise Gratton.
Certain exemptions are also possible. All sorts of exceptions allow certain limited deforestation activities within protected areas, within a well-defined framework. But the main loophole is the possibility of removing land from the territory of application of the RCI by a simple agreement between the municipality and the owner. A request for authorization may be made by an owner no later than six months after the entry into force of the RCI, under article 22 of the Environment Quality Act. The regulation does not specify any other conditions.
“Municipalities that meet their conservation obligations forgo tax revenues that might otherwise accrue to them. […] Conservation is an obligation that must be assumed equally”, underlines the founder and vice-president of the Green Coalition, David Fletcher.
Sites without protection
Despite the interim control by-law and other municipal measures, many natural environments remain unprotected. These areas are the target of commercial and industrial projects.
The project to build an N95 protective mask factory on the Montreal Technoparc site, for example, was a source of tension last year. The land in question is in a fallow area. By removing the vegetation, the project would have threatened several species such as the monarch butterfly, according to environmental groups.
: The sectors in green show the forest cover of Longueuil. In yellow, the sectors protected by different measures. In pink, the “Monarques field”. Photo credit:Montage Métro, data taken from CMM maps.
Recently, however, ADM mowed the land, dubbed the “Monarques field”, destroying more than 4,000 milkweed plants, according to a press release from Green Coalition press released in early July. For its part, ADM considers the ecological value of the site to be low.
The land in question belongs to the federal government and is leased to ADM. It does not benefit from any municipal or provincial protection. At most, the agreement with the federal government obliges it to respect the laws in force, such as the protection of the nests of migratory birds.
The threat of legal action
Any form of protection of a natural environment belonging to private interests may also be subject to disputes and legal proceedings on the part of the owners of the site and their partners. The sums can be considerable.
Senator Paul J. Massicotte notably challenges RCI 2022-96 in court. Owner of land located in the Boisé des Hirondelles, in Saint-Bruno-de-Montarville, he has already sued the municipality to have zoning removed protecting a rare plant that grows on the site.
North of Montreal, Quartier Melrose inc. Also suing the MRC of Thérèse-De Blainville and the City of Rosemère for rules preventing it from building a residential subdivision on the former Rosemère golf course. The company is claiming at least $126 million in damages. In the meantime, the CMM nevertheless adopted another RCI on June 16th. This new regulation protects certain golf courses, including that of Rosemère.
Sectors in green show the forest cover of Rosemère. In yellow, the sectors protected by different measures. In pink, the former Rosemère golf course. Photo credit: Montage Métro, data taken from CMM maps.
Most such lawsuits accuse municipalities of carrying out “disguised expropriations”. The CMM is therefore asking the Government of Quebec to amend the Expropriation Act. It suggests that the compensation for expropriation be calculated on the basis of the fair market value of a property, taking into account the real constraints of its development and the regulations in force.