Saint-Donat: once upon a time there was a mountain, a mayor, residents and a promoter

Listened perhaps, but certainly not heard, according to several citizens who denounce the lack of transparency of the municipality in connection with the approval of a recreational tourism project in a residential area.

Many of them wanted to speak that evening to express their concerns and discontent.

They deplore the fact that the municipality is allowing an initiator, owner of a site of more than 10 million square meters, to build two projects that, according to residents, could be harmful to wetlands, swamps, but also to sand martins, which make their nests on this land, and on the ducks of Lac Archambault.

Jean-Philippe Cloutier, like many residents, especially denounces a great lack of transparency on the part of the municipality. He says the city is trying to get people to swallow a big project bit by bit. A way to make it easier to adopt, he says.

You have the impression that you are presented with fait accomplis without being consulted. We are not against the project per se, we are against the management of the city and its lack of transparency.

A quote from Jean-Philippe Cloutier, native of Saint-Donat

Jean-Philippe Cloutier lives less than a kilometer from the land purchased by the property developer, Kevin Richer. He also fears the light pollution that could result from the arrival of more tourists around Lake Archambault.

In a petition launched by the collective action citoyenne Saint-Donat, signed by more than 5,500 people, we can read that the municipality has not taken any measure of transparency or public consultation to ensure the social acceptability of this mega project† This is strongly denounced by the mayor of the city, Joé Deslauriers. According to him, the city council was very transparent in presenting the project in one of its meetings.

The Mayor of Saint-Donat, Joé Deslauriers

Photo: Radio-Canada / Élisa Serret

Despite a packed house of concerned residents and a petition that generated thousands of signatures, the city council voted in favor of the project. The mayor and his team, to the extent allowed by conditional use, could have at least put conditions on the approval, according to some citizens, to ensure greater wildlife protection.

But the mayor persists and signs. He believes the information has been poorly disseminated and the petition’s claims are false. According to him, all information was available and the city council had free rein to approve the project.

A house under construction.

Black Mountain Project

Photo: Radio-Canada / Élisa Serret

The project

On the huge terrain, on the mountainside, 10-wheel trucks parade one after the other. Then a tracked bulldozer sweeps its shovel across the freshly laid gravel. Kevin Richer explains to us that he is in the process of building a road over a kilometer long on his land that will accommodate the 38 chalets he wants to build.

These 38 units, intended for sale, are part of the first phase of his major project. The municipality approved this subdivision two years ago as part of an integrated project. However, he will have to ask permission for each of the chalets, which he plans to do as construction progresses. Added to this is access to a clubhouse which includes a swimming pool, jacuzzi, dry sauna and training gymnasium.

Kevin Richer now wants to build a hotel complex consisting of eight cabins for short-term rental, for which he has a conditional use by the council last month.

On the promoter’s website, www.montagnenoire.com, there is also the presence of a hotel complex and a spa with the mention project under development

A bit more and green nature.

The Montagne Noire at the end of Lake Archambault

Photo: Radio-Canada / Élisa Serret

The Montagne Noire, a major tourist attraction

According to the mayor, 50,000 to 100,000 hikers come to enjoy the lush forest of the Montagne Noire every year.

A mountain infamous for being the scene of the 1943 Liberator Harry crash, which killed 24 Canadian soldiers.

During the summer season, the Régimbald road is full of vehicles of hikers going on an adventure.

According to the requirements of the contribution for parks, playgrounds and nature reserves of the Ministère des Affaires municipales et de l’Habitation, the developer has decided to transfer part of his land to the city so that he can build another car park giving access to the Montagne Noire, car park P2.

The new parking lot makes Chemin Régimbald safer, says the mayor.

Portrait of Justin Bulota.

Justin Bulota, resident of Saint-Donat, opposes the real estate project.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Élisa Serret

But local residents see it as a problematic cooperation. In a sense, the municipality is judge and jury in this case, because it has an interest in the P2. Ditto for access to the Montagne Noireexplains Daniel Bulota, a resident of the sector.

Access to the Montagne Noire is provided by the P2 car park and the promoter has a ringside seat. We go through his project to get to the Black Mountain. He appropriated one of Saint-Donat’s jewels, the Montagne Noire, for his business advantage.

A quote from Justin Bulota, native of Saint-Donat

A sand drain that causes concern

Citizens question whether the city will ensure that the construction of the project respects all the laws and regulations put in place to protect the wetlands on Kevin Richer’s land and Lake Archambault.

According to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Control (MELCC), all work in wetlands and water bodies is subject to ministerial authorization under Article 22(4)(1) of the Environmental Quality Act (LQE).

Portrait of Kevin Richer.

Kevin Richer, promoter of the Montagne Noire project

Photo: Radio-Canada / Élisa Serret

However, certain works may be exempted from a permit if their effects are negligible.

The promoter, Kevin Richer, states that he has taken all measures to protect the wetlands on his land. It is also the second of the main watersheds of Lake Archambault.

Kevin Richer assures that if he needs government approval, he will follow the rules to the letter.

But citizens reported in a city council meeting that sand was being unloaded into a wetland on Kevin Richer’s land. The council even confirmed that. The MELCC indicates that it has received a complaint on this subject and that an inspection will be conducted in due course.

A sign on a tree.

One of the lands reserved for the Montagne Noire project.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Élisa Serret

A protected species

Another criticism from opponents of the development is that the project involves construction near a breeding ground for the Bank Swallow, a protected species in Canada.

Under the Migratory Birds Regulation (MBR) and the Species at Risk Act (SARA) it is prohibited to destroy active sand martin nests.

Reached by Radio-Canada, an Environment Canada spokesperson referred to the brochure intended for sand and gravel quarry operators. This document provides the procedure to be followed before the start of the work, during and after the breeding season of the Common Bank Martin. In particular, you can read: : profilez vos falaises et tas de terre/agrégats avec une pente inférieure à 70degrés.”,”text”:”Dans les zones qui seront exploitées durant la période de nidification: profilez vos falaises et tas de terre/agrégats avec une pente inférieure à 70degrés.”}}”>In areas mined during the breeding season, profile cliffs and mounds of soil/aggregate with a slope of less than 70 degrees.

At the recommendation of Environment Canada, the proponent wants to keep them away by building 45-degree ramps before the swallows arrive, to prevent nests in the sector.

Pierre Drapeau, director of the Center for Forest Studies, has a hard time understanding Environment Canada’s recommendation: It seems a bit strange to propose such a measure. It is surprising that we will send a compensatory measure when the habitat as such is there and will be affected by development workhe explains.

Framework too lax

Lawyer Philippe Biuzzi, from the Center québécois du droit de l’environnement, who was contacted by the residents of Saint-Donat, believes that the project complies with municipal regulations. But he indicates that this does not mean that it does not threaten biodiversity.

The planning framework is too lax, allowing municipalities to approve projects in natural environments outside the urban perimeters.

A quote from Philippe Biuzzi, attorney at the Quebec Center for Environmental Law

The lawyer indicates that, depending on the construction works, interventions or planned activities in the wetland, the applicant may have to obtain permission from the Minister of the Environment or submit a declaration of conformity.

What is unfortunate is that the intended wetland is essential for the water quality and biodiversity of Lac Archambault.

A quote from Philippe Biuzzi, attorney at the Quebec Center for Environmental Law

As for the current zoning, he specifies, it paves the way for the development of most of the Montagne Noire. What is difficult for citizens to understand is that the current zoning allows the development of the vast majority of the Montagne Noire. It is a mountain that the citizens have long visited and to which they are attached. The project of concern to citizens at the moment is probably not the last in this location which, as we must remember, is outside the perimeter of urbanization. This is a problem often reflected in the planning tools of the municipalities of Lanaudière and the Laurentians. When citizens become aware of the natural environments that allow these planning tools to develop, they are shocked.

Saint Donat: Inhabited Natural Park

In 2016, the city of Saint-Donat obtained the certification Inhabited Natural Park, a first for a municipality in Canada. In order to obtain this recognition, the Municipal Council adopted a charter in 2015 in which the Municipality committed itself in particular to remain an environment where the natural heritage [est] protected

Daniel Dupont on the outside.

Daniel Dupont is a native of Saint-Donat.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Élisa Serret

We say to ourselves “Inhabited Natural Park”, we attract customers with a slogan, but we make a false representation, notes Daniel Dupont, retired Saint-Donat resident. Commercial use is allowed on land that is vulnerable.

Daniel Dupont believes that by approving the project, we have left a lasting scar on a gem of the region.

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