A non-profit group that manages a forest in southeastern Quebec says it can't support a Hydro-Québec plan to build an 80-kilometre power line that would go through the forest.
If built, the line would be linked to another 300-kilometre line built in the U.S. by energy company, Eversource, in an effort to bring Hydro-Québec's power to the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island.
The $125 million line would go through the Hereford forest in the town of Saint-Herménégilde in the Coaticook region.
Forêt Hereford, the group that manages the forest, stressed during the hearings that it received the 65-square-kilometre stretch of land as a donation, and with it came legal obligations that would be not be respected if the utility's project goes ahead as planned.
"The donor says 'You are not going to have any structure on the forest and you have to conserve and you have to protect,'" said the group's vice-president François Bouchy-Picon.
"And this is forever, this is what we agreed to."
According to Bouchy-Picon, the agreement makes it impossible for his organization to be on board with Hydro-Québec's proposal, despite previously stating that it would not oppose the project.
"It's against the will of the donor," he said.
They would prefer the line run underground, near the forest, but not through it.
Burying the line not an option, Hydro-Québec says
Several critics of Hydro-Québec's plans say that if about one-third of the U.S. portion of the power line will be buried, Hydro-Québec should do the same.
But not only does the utility maintain it has no choice but to have the line run through Hereford forest, spokesperson Serge Abergel said an underground line is much more expensive than an aerial line.
He added that burying the line in the forest would do more harm than good.
"Of course, to bury a line, you have to dig trenches everywhere," Abergel said. "You have to literally cut a trench through the milieu, through the environment."
Hydro-Québec also said it has worked with Forêt Hereford and adjusted its proposal in order to minimize the project's visual and environmental impact.
It also points out that 80 per cent of the power line will run parallel to an existing one.
The hearings kicked off last month and many groups and residents have told the panel the proposed line would cause too much deforestation in southeast Quebec.
The BAPE has until Jan. 25, 2017 submit its report to Environment Minister David Heurtel.
If approved, Hydro-Québec would begin building the line in fall 2017. The hearings continue Thursday.