Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre says the city will meet conditions imposed Monday by Canada's environment and climate change minister and proceed with its controversial proposal to dump eight billion litres of raw sewage into the St. Lawrence River as early as this week.
Catherine McKenna said earlier Monday that the city could proceed with the dump once it meets strict new conditions for monitoring and minimizing the environmental impact of the dump.
Those conditions include:
- Improvements to the city's emergency management plan for the dump.
- Improved visual surveillance of the discharge plume.
- A more comprehensive cleanup plan for affected areas.
- Monitoring of the discharge's impact on the river's ecosystem before, during and after the discharge.
- A comprehensive review of the process leading up to the city's decision to dump the raw sewage.
She said Montreal can proceed with the dump under these conditions up until Dec. 5, 2015.
She said the city could proceed "tomorrow" if Environment Canada's conditions are met.
Coderre agreed with the conditions and said he was confident city planners could meet them and proceed with the dump.
He hinted the dump could start as early as this week.
The mayor said the details of how the city would meet Environment Canada's conditions would be addressed at a news conference on Tuesday.
"This plan has been the work of experts from the start, and they decided that we didn't have a choice," Coderre said.
'Far from ideal'
Calling the city's plan "far from ideal," McKenna agreed with the findings of an independent panel of scientists that the city's planned release this fall was preferable to an accidental release of waste water caused by Montreal's decaying sewer system.
The City of Montreal says the dump is necessary so it can complete essential infrastructure work including repairs to a key sewer interceptor.
"The risks of an unplanned discharge are significant and increase over time. It's balancing risk," McKenna noted.
The minister highlighted the role that what she called "evidence-based decision making" played in her position on the sewage discharge.
She also underscored the need for Montreal to improve its consultation process with affected communities, including First Nations.
Coderre responded Monday night that First Nations have been consulted by the city and will continue to be as the city's plan moves forward.
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The city announced plans to dump the untreated wastewater into the St. Lawrence River earlier this fall, as a part of construction work on the Bonaventure Expressway.
The issue became a political hot potato during the recent federal election campaign, drawing criticism from environmental advocates and prompting the former Conservative government to issue a decree halting plans for the dump until it could be more carefully studied.
The hot potato then passed to McKenna, the Liberal government's new environment minister.
The Environment Ministry received an experts' report on Friday that concludes Montreal should only proceed with the dump when steps are taken to better understand and mitigate the environmental impacts.