Quebec issues stop-work order on highly-disputed container yard in Montreal's east end

Citizens' group members in Montreal's Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve neighbourhood who have been protesting the project for months now want Quebec's Environment Ministry to commission a study from the province's environmental watchdog. But the ministry has said there are no plans to do so.

Ray-Mont Logistics required ministerial approval before starting 1st phase of work

Ray-Mont Logistics' transportation hub would see up to 300,000 containers move through the site each year, resulting in the passage of up to 1,000 trucks through the industrial site, 24 hours a day. (Mathieu Prost/Radio-Canada)

The company behind a container yard project at the centre of numerous protests in Montreal's Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve neighbourhood has been handed a notice of non-compliance and ordered to stop work by Quebec's Environment Ministry.

Following an inspection in late March, the ministry said it found the company, Ray-Mont Logistics, had begun carrying out the first phase of its project before obtaining ministerial authorization. 

Ray-Mont plans to turn 22,300 square metres of unused land into a transportation hub where goods will be sent via rail and road to the nearby Port of Montreal. The company anticipates 300,000 containers will move through their site each year, resulting in the passage of up to 1,000 trucks through the industrial site, 24 hours a day. 

The ministry found the company had already begun using a portion of its site for container storage purposes. On Tuesday, it demanded work be halted until Ray-Mont submits an updated study on the project's potential impact on noise levels, for which they will have to propose "appropriate mitigation measures."

In an updated statement, the ministry clarified the company can continue certain work in connection with its container transshipment project that has already been authorized, such as the storage of dismantling materials and land rehabilitation work, such as removing contaminated soil and residual hazardous materials from the site. 

The setback comes after residents have expressed numerous concerns about the project, ranging from its proximity to residential areas, the threat to one of the only remaining green spaces in the area, the increase in noise and air pollution and overall disruption to their quality of life.

A small victory, but no plans for BAPE report

Hochelaga-Maisonneuve resident Cassandre Charbonneau-Jobin is a member of the citizens' group Mobilisation 6600 Parc-Nature MHM, which has been advocating against the project.

She says the ministry's involvement is a small victory, but she wants it to go even further and commission a study from Quebec's environmental watchdog, the Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement (BAPE) — something Charbonneau-Jobin says Environment Minister Benoit Charette is not inclined to do. 

"What we hear is that the Minister of the Environment uses this [order] as a smokescreen to hide the fact that he made up his mind about not conducting a thorough environmental assessment," she said. 

"We want the BAPE to look into the project and to look at all the negative impacts and not just the noise." 

Groups of concerned citizens have taken to the streets of Montreal's Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve borough to protest the project. (Radio-Canada)

In an email statement to CBC Montreal, a spokesperson with the Environment Ministry said while the realization of Ray-Mont's freight transshipment platform project is subject to obtaining ministerial authorization, "the analysis of this authorization does not imply that the minister gives a mandate to the BAPE."

"Such a mandate is granted when a project is subject to the environmental impact assessment and review procedure (PÉEIE) provided for in the [Environment Quality Act]," said Frédéric Fournier.

A controversial project

For its part, Ray-Mont says it has taken note of the province's decision and that it will take the time required to rigorously analyze its position and requests. 

"The company has always been willing to comply with the existing regulations," the company said in a statement, adding it was forced to begin some work to conform to the city's requirements.

The start of the work was aimed at securing an extension of the construction permit from the city obtained in April 2021, after several years of litigation.

The City of Montreal had been forced to grant a permit to Ray-Mont after a Court of Appeal decision allowing the project to proceed. A statement from Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante's office says the city has done what it could to try to block the project, and it welcomes the province's efforts.

Ray-Mont Logistics purchased this industrial site in 2016 in the Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve borough. The City of Montreal tried to block the project but was forced to issue a permit to the company to comply with the law. (Mathieu Prost/Radio-Canada)

"The bottom line is to make sure we protect the green space in the area and keep the nuisance to the citizens to a minimum," the statement reads. 

Ray-Mont Logistiques acquired the land on which it plans to build its container hub in 2016 for $20 million. What followed was a series of delays and complications.

The company is now suing the city for $373 million in damages, claiming that delays in obtaining the necessary permits have caused the company massive financial losses.

LISTEN | Residents in Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve mobilize against project:

Residents of the borough, citizens and elected officials have been protesting the project since its acquisition by Ray-Mont, staging numerous demonstrations, including a recent carnival called "resist and flourish" held on the industrial site.

Last September, the MNA for Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, Alexandre Leduc, called for an impact study be conducted prior to the project's completion.

Citizens' group member Charbonneau-Jobin says the fight isn't over. In addition to a planned protest this Saturday — "We're going to make a human chain on the Ray-Mont grounds!" — she said residents and group members will continue to push for a BAPE report and further action from all levels of government.

With files from CBC's Daybreak and Radio-Canada