HQ ends the saga of its high voltage line in Saint-Adolphe by pleading guilty

Hydro-Québec has discreetly put an end to the saga which has surrounded, for more than ten years, the construction of a high voltage line which passes through Saint-Adolphe-d’Howard. The state-owned company pleaded guilty to destroying natural environments and paid penalties that exceed $125,000, a high sum compared to usual fines.

On Wednesday, December 20, 2023, a few hours before the Christmas vacation began for many, the Quebec Ministry of the Environment published in its register of convictions a sanction that will go unnoticed: Hydro-Québec pleads guilty to three environmental offenses.

The failings accused of the distributor, we can read, were committed during the construction of the contested 120 kilovolt electric transmission line project which now connects Mont-Tremblant to Saint-Sauveur, in the Laurentians.

Hydro-Québec acknowledges having carried out backfilling “in the banks of watercourses and in peat bog-type wetlands” between 2017 and 2019 without having obtained authorization from the Ministry of the Environment. In February, Hydro-Québec paid fines representing more than $125,000 and, above all, at the same time turned the page on a highly publicized saga that has dragged on for eleven years.

Because the construction of this transport line sparked an outcry from citizens, including residents of the municipality of Saint-Adolphe-d’Howard. On several occasions, public figures have echoed citizens’ concerns, including Guy A. Lepage, Claude Meunier, Lisette Lapointe and Emmanuel Bilodeau.

A number of environmental violations have been noted over the years, and several penalties have been passed on to the distributor. In 2019, Quebec produced an order against Hydro-Québec in which it was indicated that inspections noted that “on several occasions, the measures [environnementales] implemented were […] inadequate […] to prevent the release of sediment into wetlands and bodies of water.”

Documents filed as part of the steps taken by the Ministry of the Environment tell us more about the environmental supervision of the state company, noted The duty.

In a sworn statement, a Hydro-Québec construction project manager — from 2017 to 2020 — “confirms that Hydro-Québec does not have any document reporting a specific budget item for costs related to environmental measures occurred during the work relating to the Project, nor during the follow-up following this work”.

Sarah Perreault was the spokesperson for the Saint-Adolphe-d’Howard advisory committee during this saga. “They were waiting for problems to arise. They did not anticipate the problems, even though the people at Hydro-Québec are very competent and perfectly able to predict the impacts. If the environment manager in Saint-Adolphe was able to anticipate the impacts, it is certain that within Hydro-Québec, they were able to do so,” she says.

Mme Perreault also questions the vigilance of the Quebec Ministry of the Environment. “How is it that he accepted Hydro-Québec’s environmental study without more details on the environmental impacts? This is a problem in this type of file. They say: “We are going to take measures to reduce the impacts.” But they do not detail the measurements. »

However, the mobilization of citizens was not in vain, she believes, specifying that Hydro-Québec had to review its ways of doing things for all similar projects.

Words which are reminiscent of those of the former CEO of Hydro-Québec Sophie Brochu, who, in 2020, during the study of budgetary appropriations, admitted that the company “poined la garnotte” in this file: “It was a difficult project. […] There are great lessons learned for the way we think about projects. »

Hydro-Québec admits that it did not obtain the necessary authorizations to carry out work in certain sensitive areas, but assures that it has learned from this file. This saga marks a turning point in the approach of the state corporation. Since then, measures have been put in place to “prevent such a situation from being repeated in new projects,” wrote Maxence Huard-Lefebvre, spokesperson for Hydro-Québec, by email.

For example, the company trains more workers who work in sensitive areas. It also requires site managers to produce an environmental control plan for natural environments. “This plan includes the delimitation of the work area, the control measures and the work methods which must be approved prior to the work,” he explains.

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