Ecotourism threatened by major energy projects along Saguenay Fjord, citizens warn

Public meetings are being held in communities along the Saguenay estuary this month to discuss the impacts of three major energy projects in the region that would significantly increase maritime traffic on the Saguenay River.

Concerns over increase in maritime traffic spark public meetings in North Shore communities

Shipments of liquefied natural gas and heavy metals would transit through the Saguenay estuary to reach international markets. (Radio-Canada)

Allowing tankers to ship heavy metals and liquefied gas along the Saguenay estuary could have an "enormous" impact on the region's ecotourism industry, according to local citizens' committees in Quebec's Upper North Shore region.

That was one of the concerns highlighted at a public meeting in the municipality of Les Escoumins on Friday, organized by several citizens' groups.

They are monitoring three major energy projects being developed in the region: a proposed liquid natural gas refinery, managed by Énergie Saguenay, as well as a phosphate mine, Arianne Phosphate, and a metal transformation plant, operated by BlackRock Metals.

All three projects would ship their finished products to international markets through the Saguenay estuary, and then onto the St. Lawrence River.

The citizens' groups voiced particular concern over the Énergie Saguenay project, which also includes a proposed $9-billion pipeline to transport natural gas from northern Ontario to the refinery in La Baie, Que.

"It is absolutely illogical to build a methane terminal in this location and to have tankers passing through the fjord," said Lilas Lamontagne, a spokesperson with the Mouvement citoyen littoralement inacceptable.

Mitigation measures

Énergie Saguenay submitted its 1,000-page environmental impact study to the federal and provincial governments in February, concluding it could mitigate the environmental impact on marine life, for example by reducing the speed of the tankers.

The company has said that liquefied natural gas will be replacing coal-based industries elsewhere on the planet, and will contribute to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Three to four tankers, about 345 metres in length, would navigate along the Saguenay River every week to carry the liquefied natural gas to international markets.

But Lamontagne said the project itself does nothing to rid the country of its dependance on fossil fuels.

"Right now, the future of the planet depends on our ability to make this energy transition," she said.

Adrien Guibert-Barthez, spokesperson for Coalition Fjord, said he is concerned that an increase in traffic could impact the adventure ecotourism industry, renowned for its whale-watching and kayaking tours.

Communities along the Saguenay estuary have launched an online petition against the development of a liquefied natural gas refinery in La Baie, Que.. (Mélissa Savoie-Soulières/Radio-Canada)

"These tankers carry extremely dangerous goods," said Guibert-Barthez.

"There are high security standards that have to be respected, including exclusion zones around the ships," he said.

Two more public meetings will be held in the coming weeks: in Sacré-Coeur on May 9 and in Tadoussac on May 14. The groups are also planning protests along the estuary in the coming months.

With files from Radio-Canada