Wakefield, Quebec’s Save Our Spring pushes for new environmental assessment

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by Trevor Greenway on January 13, 2011

Users of the Wakefield spring protest plans to the Hwy 5 expansion. Franziska Heinze photo

Users of the Wakefield spring protest plans to the Hwy 5 expansion. Franziska Heinze photo

The Wakefield-based movement – Save Our Spring (SOS) – is pushing the province’s Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks for a renewed environmental assessment (EA) on the proposed Hwy 5 extension north.

According to Peter Andree, Chair of SOS Wakefield, the province is using outdated figures from 1986 as a basis for making decisions on the project, which could threaten the spring on Valley Drive.

“There are new laws on ground water protection in Quebec,” said Andree, adding that the same measures were not in place in the 1980s. “They have started addressing the issue, but they haven’t gone far enough.”

SOS Wakefield has sent a demand letter to the ministry, requesting that no more certificates of approval are handed out until a more thorough provincial EA is conducted to ensure the Wakefield spring is protected.

The letter was drafted by Will Amos, Director at the University of Ottawa Eco Justice Environmental Law Clinic on behalf of the group. He says that while it is a demand letter, the province isn’t bound to any action.

“(The letter) is like a very formal request,” said Amos. “It’s laying out a case for SOS Wakefield.”

The letter request a new EA, as well as public consultations and design options for the highway.

“The environmental impact assessment for this project was carried out 1986, over two decades ago. A certificate of authorization was issued by Décret 807-87 on May 27, 1987. The environmental impact assessment is clearly outdated, and does not reflect current environmental values in Québec” the letter states.

It also includes background information on the spring, including data indicating that 5,000 people use the spring, as well as the 2,800-name petition to pressure local governments for more comprehensive studies on the spring and the highway project.

If the letter is ignored, SOS Wakefield could seek judicial review, said Amos, but they are hoping the province agrees on a new study.

“We are really encouraging the government to do us right,” said Amos. “(Quebec) needs to – or get out of the 80s and into 2010 and do it right.”

SOS Wakefield has gained some support during their campaign, from the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) and the Council of Canadians.

MTQ officials could not be reached for comment, although media spokesperson Nicole Ste-Marie told the Low Down last November that a study of the Valley Drive wells “showed that the Hwy 5 project will have no impact on the spring, nor the water supplies in that area.”

The province was waiting for the federal EA before they could begin construction on Phase 2 of the highway, a stretch from Farm Point in Chelsea to the Wakefield area. With the assessments in, construction can legally begin.

Federal Environmental Assessment

After releasing a preliminary screening report of the environmental impact of the Hwy 5 extension last summer, Transports Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the National Capital Commission (NCC) have released their final screening report, which outlines potential risks and mitigation procedures connected to the highway project.

Louis Molgat with the results of his spring survey

Louis Molgat with the results of his spring survey

The report notes that the Valle Verde aquifer is at risk from contamination of road salts and other highway contaminants as well as from proposed rock cuts. The report then suggests that this is of minor significance to the Wakefield spring, as Natural Resources Canada experts say “the water feeding this spring appears to come from the hills in the upper watershed area, to the east and south of the spring, and from the sand and gravel pit located on either side of Route 105, near Rockhurst Road (a former quarry is also present)”

Andree says the federal EA raises more questions than answers. “The spring has multiple sources.”

The official SOS Wakefield response to the federal EA said:

“The Report still fails to adequately address one of the biggest potential environmental impacts of the highway extension: elimination or significant change in the flow and/or quality of the Wakefield Spring, which is a primary source of pure drinking water for five thousand people in La Pêche and beyond (according to a survey undertaken by the engineer Louis Molgat in August 2010).” SOS Wakefield also feels that there is confusion surrounding where the recharge area is for the aquifer.”

The report also states that a monitor system and follow-up program will be put in place to ensure there is no deterioration to the water quality at the spring. If there is damage to the spring, it will be corrected.

“The follow-up program described in Section 6 will aim to ensure that wells deemed at risk will continue to provide an acceptable supply of water to the residents concerned, as well as the spring in Wakefield. If this is not the case and it is deemed to be the Department’s responsibility to act, the situation will be promptly corrected at the Department’s cost (e.g., well relocation, well drilling at a greater depth, etc.) in order to restore the potable water supply (sufficient flow and adequate quality) to the residents concerned. The potable water well monitoring program is enforced at all MTQ work sites in Quebec.”

SOS Wakefield says these mitigation procedures are “clearly insufficient.” SOS Wakefield also feels the federal EA fails to deal adequately with the question of ecological corridors and the effects on the Valley Verde wetlands.