The sale of BAnQ land to Hydro-Québec kept secret

Hydro-Québec and Bibliothèque et Archives nationaux du Québec (BAnQ) refuse to reveal under what conditions and at what price the latter intends to cede a vast green plot of land which was to be used for its possible extension.

Under the Act respecting access to documents held by public bodies, The duty tried in vain to obtain discussions between the two public organizations on this subject. BAnQ and Hydro-Québec refuse to disclose their documents: they say they wish not to harm the transaction, which has not yet been officially concluded. Hydro-Québec has, however, just announced the timetable for carrying out the project to construct an electrical transmission station on the ground, with a timetable which leads to commissioning between 2029 and 2033.

Last March, after a meeting of the board of directors of BAnQ, of which he is vice-president, Gaston Bellemare had already confirmed to Duty that the fate of the transaction was sealed. “There was a lot of money put on the table by Hydro-Québec for BAnQ,” he explained. “As there is not a lot of money coming in, it was an important source of income. »

This sale from one creature of the State to another should make it possible to subsidize the work on the Saint-Sulpice building with a view to opening the Maison de la chanson et de la musique du Québec. This project, which should benefit from annual funding of $7.3 million, is questioned by some, as explained by The duty recently.

According to our information, however, negotiations between BAnQ and Hydro-Québec began even before the Maison de la chanson project was on the agenda.

A neighborhood soon to be disfigured?

Hydro-Québec indicates that the large green lot adjoining the Grande Bibliothèque is one of the last places in the sector that can accommodate an electrical transmission station. Still according to the state company, the construction of a new station to supply the east of the city center is necessary, because the one located just at the top of the Berri coast will soon be dilapidated. No study in this regard has been communicated by Hydro-Québec.

“We are aware that we are in an urban environment. This is why we are going to launch an architectural competition for the construction of this station, which Hydro-Québec has never done,” said spokesperson Maxence Huard-Lefebvre. “We intend for it to be a construction that fits well into the environment. We can already say that it will have nothing to do with posts with wires outside and fences, as we can see in industrial zones,” he added.

Nothing, however, to reassure Lise Bissonnette, former director of BAnQ and founder of the Grande Bibliothèque. For her, this project “will forever disfigure the Latin Quarter”. “We’re not going to plant flowers there!” » she protests. “We are talking about a project as large as the Grande Bibliothèque, but with heavy equipment, on the surface and in height. »

“People don’t seem to realize how big this project will be,” observes Lise Bissonnette. We’re talking about more than 30,000 square feet. More in short than the surface area of ​​the Great Library, she said. Years of invasive work and truck traffic are expected, she said. “Do we realize what this will look like in a neighborhood that already has its share of problems? Hydro tells us that they are going to hold an architectural competition. What architectural firm is going to want to create an envelope to try to hide all this? It’s simple facadeism, taken to the extreme. »

Land in reserve

Still according to Lise Bissonnette, community groups and the cultural sector should realize the damage that this project will cause in the neighborhood. “For many people, it seems difficult to go to the front. Still, many people should be concerned. »

When the Grande Bibliothèque project was launched, recalls Lise Bissonnette, it appeared on the horizon that this cultural facility would be supplemented by another building of the same nature. “We were certain that there would be a phase 2”, whether for an expansion of the library itself or for the construction of another complementary cultural installation, linked to its collections. “Hence the constraint imposed from the start, in the architectural competition, not to use the entire land. »

That this space is now used for the installation of heavy hydroelectric equipment, in the heart of a historic cultural center, in front of the coach station, one of the main reception points in the city, seems sinister to him.

Last November, the founder of the Canadian Center for Architecture, Phyllis Lambert, also denounced the Hydro-Québec project. “It will really be a big disaster because it is a question of a large volume, of blind walls [sans fenêtre]. It will change the neighborhood,” denounced Mme Lambert in an interview with Montreal Journal.

Difficult burial

The president and CEO of Hydro-Québec, Michael Sabia, wrote last April to Mayor Valérie Plante to reassure her about the electrical transmission station project. In the letter, we can read that Hydro-Québec is committed to “reducing as much as possible the footprint of the future station in order to protect the developed park as much as possible.”

The burial of the future station has not been completely ruled out, although it is not the most likely avenue. “First, you have to ask yourself, is it possible to do it? We know, for example, that the underground network in the Latin Quarter is already very developed, with the metro passing through there. Then, the question of costs arises, because we know that building a substation underground is more expensive,” says spokesperson Maxime Huard-Lefebvre.

With Dave Noël and Marco Fortier

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