Environmental groups ask court to stop REM construction at Saint-Laurent Technoparc

In what one environmentalist calls a 'brutal and useless act,' work crews clearing land for the REM light-rail station in Saint-Laurent's Technoparc have already destroyed a nesting site for green herons, the group TechnoparcOiseaux says.

In ‘brutal, useless’ act, work crews have already destroyed nesting site for green herons: environmentalist

Campbell Stuart, left, a lawyer for TechnoparcOiseaux, and Matthew Chapman, right, the president of the Montreal Climate Coalition, are leading a court fight to stop construction of the light-rail transit station at the Technoparc in Montreal’s Saint-Laurent borough.

A Quebec Court of Appeal justice will hear a motion Friday from a coalition of environmental activists seeking an order for crews to stop clearing land in the Montreal Technoparc.

They want work stopped until the court hears its appeal of a lower court ruling in early November.

The coalition, which includes TechnoparcOiseaux, Trainsparence and the Montreal Climate Coalition, filed a motion at the province's highest court for a safeguard order on Sept. 14.

The motion is a last-ditch effort to halt work already underway for the construction of a light-rail transit (REM) station at that site before the court hears the coalition's arguments for putting the entire $6.3B REM megaproject on ice.

Since Sept. 10, work crews have been cutting down trees and clearing brush on a vacant lot at the corner of Alfred Nobel Boulevard and Alexander Fleming Street to make way for the REM station.

A skidder was transporting fallen trees just north of Alexander Fleming Street in Montreal's Saint-Laurent borough on Sept. 10. (submitted by Don Hobus)

The spokesperson for TechnoparcOiseaux, Jim Harris, says the work has already destroyed a nesting site for green herons, an act he called "brutal and useless."

Harris says the birds hunt in a swampy area just across the street from the worksite — home to dozens of species, including the Least Bittern, which the Quebec Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks considers vulnerable.

"We are of the view that what they're doing is improper," said Campbell Stuart, the lawyer for TechnoparcOiseaux.

Groups demands 'meaningful' public hearings

Last December, Quebec Superior Court Justice Michel Yergeau threw out a lawsuit filed by the coalition against the REM's builder, CDPQ Infra, and the Quebec government, demanding a halt to the megaproject.

The plaintiffs are seeking a more rigorous public consultation process.

The coalition appealed that ruling, claiming Yergeau was biased against it and erred in not allowing "meaningful" hearings on the project.

Stuart says it's wrong to push ahead with the construction before that appeal is heard.

The orange areas indicate the area where trees are being cleared for REM construction in the Technoparc. The wetlands which the coalition says are at risk are south of Alexander Fleming Street. (CDPQ Infra)

The REM did not receive a favourable recommendation from the province's environmental review agency, the BAPE, which concluded the REM needed a more in-depth review.

Despite that lukewarm appraisal, the provincial government OK'd the project, passing a special law to push construction ahead.

The environmental coalition say that was undemocratic and wants new hearings.

Project is environmentally sound, REM builder insists

But CDPQ Infra says the project has already passed all the environmental hurdles it needs, and it's time to build.

"The project of the REM is a lot of different chapters," said REM spokesperson Jean-Vincent Lacroix. "One of them is the BAPE, but after that a lot of chapters have been written."

REM spokesperson Jean-Vincent Lacroix says the project was given the green light by the Quebec Environment Ministry. (Simon Nakonechny/CBC)

Lacroix says CDPQ Infra did "a lot of work" after the BAPE report to address the environmental concerns, including deciding to build the rail line beneath the Technoparc wetlands instead of partly overland, as initially planned.

"We're building a major project. It's something huge," Lacroix said. "We're doing all we can to minimize the impact."

Lacroix said construction will not affect the wetlands south of Alexander Fleming Street.

Activists fear more loss of green space

However, the environmental groups say they're worried that having a train station so close to the wetlands will drive up development and ultimately eat away at the area's remaining green space.

"This project is designed to allow it to sprawl into green spaces like the Technoparc even further." said Matthew Chapman, president of Montreal Climate Coalition.

"The biggest project in the last half century went forward in a very undemocratic way," said Chapman. "In a way that ignored the public consultation that took place."

A total of 20 hectares of green space will be cleared during the construction of the entire 67-kilometre rail network — the equivalent of close to 25 CFL football fields.

To compensate, CDPQ Infra is committed to planting 250,000 trees over 200 hectares.