Hundreds of trees being chopped down to make way for Quebec's 1st Club Med

A local forestry technician laments that some of the trees being razed at the foot of Le Massif in the Charlevoix region are centuries old and says a unique ecosystem is being destroyed, but the promoter says it's doing nothing wrong.

Some of the trees that will be razed are centuries old, local resident laments

Hundreds of trees are being cut down at the foot of Le Massif ski hill in Quebec’s Charlevoix region. (Marc-Antoine Lavoie/Radio-Canada)

A forest the size of 20 football fields — 10.25 hectares in all — is being clear-cut to make way for a new Club Med on the St. Lawrence River, northeast of Quebec City.

The hundreds of trees being cut down at the foot of Le Massif ski hill in Quebec's Charlevoix region aren't just any trees, according to local resident François Lessard.

They include maples that first emerged from the ground two centuries ago, said the forestry technician.

The $120-million resort, announced last year, is being financed in part by a $26.3-million loan from the Quebec government and a $9.8-million loan from the federal government.

Lessard questions why taxpayers' money is going into destroying a unique ecosystem, and he says residents don't know enough about Groupe le Massif's plans.

"[The promoter] once again is putting the cart before the horse, because we haven't seen any public presentation about the project," he said.

The Club Med Québec Charlevoix will be built in Petite-Rivière-Saint-François, just south of Baie-Saint-Paul, in the Charlevoix region. (Alexandre Duval/Radio-Canada)

Groupe le Massif, the promoter, says it has the necessary permits to clear the trees, and it will hold a news conference this fall to provide an update on its project.

The Club Med Québec Charlevoix is to include a 300-room, seven-storey hotel. It is slated to open in 2020.

The environmental impact of this kind of project doesn't have to be evaluated, and so no public consultations must be held, according to Clément Falardeau, spokesperson for the Environment Ministry.

Bylaw change allows more trees to be cut

Until recently, a bylaw allowed only up to 25 per cent of the trees to be chopped down in four designated areas near the site.

However, to make room for the Club Med project, that bylaw was changed in August. While the percentage of trees that can be cut down is the same, the areas themselves were expanded.

The clear-cutting going on now appears to respect the rules set out by the municipality. The trees are being cut down in order to put up a building, which doesn't require a permit from the Environment Ministry, Falardeau said.

But work at another site, to create new ski trails and broaden existing ones, was halted last month because that job does require permits, and the promoter didn't have them.

At the beginning of September, at least two complaints were lodged with the Environment Ministry regarding work being done to level the ground, including dynamite explosions, according to Radio-Canada.

The local municipality changed a bylaw in August, expanding the area where trees could be cut down. (Submitted by Véronique Tanguay)

Residents also reported finding contaminants in a nearby stream.

After inspectors checked out the site, the ministry issued a notice of non-compliance because the work didn't respect the province's Environment Quality Act.

Katherine Laflamme, head of marketing for the Massif de Charlevoix, the existing ski hill, told Radio-Canada at the time that it was looking into the issue and would make any changes the ministry deemed necessary.

Frédéric Fournier, a spokesperson with the Environment Ministry, says the promoter has since applied for permits, and the ministry is still analyzing whether they will be granted.

With files from Radio-Canada's Marc-Antoine Lavoie and Alexandre Duval