Ruling could hurt snowmobile tourism

Quebecers living near a snowmobile trail win compensation after court rules machines are source of noise pollution.

In a decision that could cause ripples across Canada's winter tourism industry, a judge in Quebec has ruled that people living near a snowmobile trail in the Laurentians should be compensated because of noise levels.

Calling themselves the Coalition for the Protection of the Environment of the Petit Train du Nord Linear Park, about 600 residents took the province, Laurentians municipal government and snowmobile clubs to court when the trail was approved seven years ago.

They filed a class-action lawsuit, arguing the snowmobiles were a source of noise pollution that affected their health.

Judy Girvan, who lives near the trail, said snowmobile traffic is heavy.

"One day we counted 1,500 snowmobiles," said Girvan. "It's like an autoroute."

Studies along the trail found unacceptable levels of noise causing insomnia, nerve problems and related illnesses.

In an 80-page decision released on Tuesday, Quebec Superior Court Justice Hélène Langlois ordered municipal and provincial governments to share the costs of $1,200-per-year compensation payments for the past seven years to each person living within 100 metres of the park.

Even though the lawsuit targeted the snowmobilers association, the Laurentians Regional Muncipality (MRC) and the provincial government, the judge ruled that only the MRC and Quebec government are financially responsible.

The ruling could cost between $6 and $8 million.

Several hundred people will benefit from the decision, said the coalition, which said it was pleased with the ruling.

Along with compensation, the court has also banned snowmobiles for a 30-kilometre stretch along the trail between the towns of St. Faustin-Lac Carre and Labelle.

Decision a disaster: businesses

With the snowmobile industry worth $1.6 billion in the province last year, businesses that depend on snowmobile tourism are concerned.

"This decision means a lot of people won't stop in Ste.-Agathe or here, and they will go to Labelle now," said hotel owner Jean Beaulieu.

Jean-Guy Pagé, owner of Recreation Centrale in Ste-Agathe, calls the decision a "disaster," saying European tourists spend an average of $400 per day when they come to snowmobile in the area.

He says he was surprised by the court decision.

"Snowmobile is a vehicle authorized by the minister of transport. It meets standards for noise and pollution ... this is a legal vehicle across Canada," said Pagé.

Mike Garneau, with the Quebec Federation of Snowmobile Clubs, says the judgment could set a precedent across the country.

"This situation presents a particular challenge to the federation because of the jurisprudence it creates and... the possible domino effects and it's important to know this is not just in Quebec," said Garneau.