For the second time under Mayor Caryl Green’s stewardship, Chelsea Municipality has issued the Low Down a lawyer’s letter, warning the paper about what it publishes.
A bailiff delivered a letter to the newspaper office, warning against printing “confidential information” from three engineering reports about the Hollow Glen Dam.
“You should know that the full version of this report has not been made public by the Municipality,” reads the letter.
It then suggests the newspaper is “liable to a fine” because of “illegal procurement and detention of documents.”
The “confidential information” in question refers to numerous blacked-out sections of the S.M. Inc engineering reports that, among other things, reveal the fact that just three houses on Castors Road are at risk of landslides or flooding should the Hollow Glen Dam burst. Former mayor Jean Perras lives in one of those homes.
As for the “illegal procurement” – no documents were leaked or stolen. That was a simple job of copying the blacked-out sections from the reports posted on the website and pasting it into a text editor.
WHAT’S ‘CONFIDENTIAL’ IN THE REPORTS
Besides the fact that only three houses, including that of the former mayor are at risk, what the report also censors is the fact that the municipality will communicate with those three homeowners about an emergency back-up plan in the unlikely case a serious flood should put those homes at risk.
And it’s very unlikely. Even if a flood were to occur, “the maximum water levels reached during the break are below the flood levels of those residencies.”
However, enough of a water flow could erode the banks of Breckenridge River. Because the region’s soil – like the rest of Chelsea – is predominantly Leda clay, it’s susceptible to sliding.
Other “confidential information” in the report includes the municipality’s emergency plan. If the dam’s security is ever at risk, Chelsea, its fire department, Consultants S.M. Inc., Quebec’s hydraulic dam centre (CEHQ) and Securite Civile will make up the “communication chain” and transportation, machinery and alternative housing could be needed.
The censored part of the report also states that a detection system is needed to monitor Beamish Lake water levels, but “a more sophisticated instrument is not justified,” which, again, makes the problem sound less severe. A flooding map also appears to have been drawn up, but the fact that such a map exists is hidden in the report. The map was not at all published.
UPDATE: Chelsea municipality has since changed the reports on its website. This information is no longer available through copy-and-paste.
WHY THE BLACKOUT?
The reason this information would be censored is still not clear. In an interview prior to the delivery of the lawyer’s letter, Green stressed that it’s “private” and warned the Low Down to be careful about publishing it. She said Chelsea could take legal action.
Four reports are listed on the municipality’s website about the condition of the dam. Three of those reports contain censored information.
After reading the blacked-out sections, the Low Down contacted the mayor Feb. 6 for comment.
“I’m a little bit concerned about that,” said Green, because “it has to do with people’s homes and we didn’t want to make public information about people’s homes.”
On Feb. 8, Green called the Low Down again, stressing again that the information is “private” and said Chelsea would take legal action if necessary.
All the the censored information is available through copying and pasting. Anyone can download the Consultants S.M. Inc. engineering reports using a Mozilla browser, highlight the blacked-out information and paste it to a text editor where it becomes visible.
On Feb. 8, a bailiff hand-delivered a letter from Montreal lawyer Marc Lalonde on behalf of the municipality to the Low Down office.
It reads: “In light of the above, we formally request that you immediately return to the Municipality any copy of the report that may have been provided to you or to Mrs (sic) Scholey by Mr Leduc or from another source.”
The lawyer for Chelsea also sent a similar letter to Hollow Glen resident Alain Leduc, who has also read the blacked-sections and has been in contact with the Low Down.
The Low Down phoned the mayor’s office for more information, but had no response at press time.
SECOND BAILIFF GO-AROUND
This marked the second time Green has sent the Low Down a lawyer’s letter via a bailiff. The first letter demanded better press treatment, following a tumultuous election campaign.
On Nov. 6, 2009, shortly after the mayor and councillors were elected, a bailiff delivered a letter to the newspaper office. It objected to a previous story about Green, Coun. Luc Poulin and then-election candidate Doug Griffin.
At the time, Griffin had accused Green and Poulin of being dishonest about funding for the Meredith Centre. Green and Poulin felt they had been unfairly treated in a Low Down report.
Other media organizations picked up the story and called Green for interviews. She later said it was a “personal letter and not a legal document,” meant to stop the “personal attacks” and “defamation of character.”
HOLLOW GLEN DAM HISTORY
The state of the Hollow Glen Dam has been an area of contention for Beamish Lake residents.
Heavy rains in June 2011 raised the water levels of the lake. At the time, the municipality contracted engineering firm CIMA+ to do a preliminary study of the Hollow Glen Dam. CIMA+ determined the dam was at risk of bursting, putting nearby homes and Hwy 148 at risk.
A second firm, Gatineau-based Consultants S.M. Inc, conducted another study in February 2012. The municipality has since posted those four reports – with parts blacked out – to the Chelsea website.
These reports – even the uncensored segments – show a more scaled-back view of the possible dangers of the Hollow Glen Dam. It’s now considered at a “moderate” risk of bursting.
The reports on the Hollow Glen Dam are available at www.chelsea.ca.
Censored information in Hollow Glen Dam reports
• Just three homes on Castors Road are at risk of landslides or flooding should the Hollow Glen Dam burst.
• An emergency plan: If the dam’s security is ever at risk, Chelsea, its fire department, Consultants S.M. Inc., Quebec’s hydraulic dam centre (CEHQ) and Securite Civile make up the “communication chain” and transportation, machinery and alternative housing could be necessary.
• The municipality will also communicate with the three Castors Road homeowners about an emergency back-up plan in the unlikely case a serious flood should put those homes at risk. And it’s very unlikely. Even if a flood were to happen, “the maximum water levels reached during the break are below the flood levels of those residencies.”
• A detection system to regularly measure the levels of Beamish Lake is all that’s needed to monitor the water.
• A flooding map.