Controversial CN corridor and bio-park issues on the table at special meeting Mayors debate biopark – resolution nixed


Allyson Beauregard

MRC PONTIAC – Two controversial issues, one allowing snowmobiles and ATVs to use the former CN railway corridor and another supporting the proposed
bio-park project, were back on the Council of Mayors’ (CoM) table during a special meeting on February 3. Both issues were discussed during January’s CoM meeting, but decisions were deferred.
Before beginning, the mayors passed a resolution of gratitude and respect
in honour of Charlotte L’Ecuyer, former Pontiac MNA.
The annual report for PPJ work was passed in order to receive the remaining 20% of the $125,000 from Route Verte. In 2020, three bike repair stations were installed on the trail; a total of 7.7 km of granular resurfacing applied in Shawville, Clarendon and L’Isle-aux-Allumettes; and asphalt was resurfaced over a repaired culvert in Fort-Coulonge. The MRC spent $132,127, for a total of $257,127 invested in 2020.
CN corridor
During January’s meeting, a small debate took place on a bylaw officially changing the CN railway corridor’s designation to recreo-tourism, allowing ATVs and snowmobiles to use it in Bristol, Clarendon, Litchfield, and Portage-du-Fort. Mayor John Armstrong (Clarendon) requested that municipalities meet with the snowmobile and ATVs clubs first to sign an agreement to eliminate any potential “liabilities.”
A sentence was added to the bylaw stating the leaseholder or owner can restrict use under various terms and conditions, including “in the event that no agreement be reached with an off-road vehicle club for laying out, signage and maintenance of the trail on this corridor.”
The bylaw was passed with the amendment, with three mayors voting against it. Mayors Brent Orr (Bristol) and Armstrong said negotiations are underway between the Pontiac Snowmobile Drivers’ Association (PSDA) and the National Capital Commission (NCC) to create a bypass around Pontiac Station to alleviate noise and other nuisances for residents who live very close to the corridor; they want to see the result of the negotiations before voting in favour.
The PSDA has leased the corridor from CN Rail for the last few years and although the organization approached the local quad club in the past about also using it,
an agreement was never finalized.
In January, Orr put forward a resolution to “firmly support” the bio-park project “which guarantees sustainable development of forestry throughout [the MRC], which will be made possible by implementing a solid industrial structure focused on producing bio-products that meet local and global consumption.” The resolution would be sent to: Renmatix, one of seven or eight partners that could potentially join the park; local elected officials and government ministers; and each municipality for further endorsement.
Some mayors emphasized how the bio-park is essential for the economic recovery of the region, while others were hesitant to support it. “Some mayors feel not enough progress has been made while others think it’s too early to stop,” said Warden Jane Toller. In the end, the resolution was adopted, with an amendment to bring it back to the next plenary meeting.
However, following the meeting, Toller said she decided to use her veto power on the resolution due to the confusion surrounding it and the need for clarification.
After Mayor Winston Sunstrum (L’Isle-aux-Allumettes) described what a bio-park is and the types of companies that could join it, the resolution was put to vote again. Sunstrum said a bio-park would be a cluster of businesses using biomass and complementing each other, anchored together by a bio-refinery (a plant
that processes biomass into energy and other beneficial products), “similar to a shopping centre that’s anchored by a major food store.”
Mayor David Rochon said Waltham passed the resolution with an amendment stating the MRC supports the project, but will not provide any further financial support. But by law, no amendments could be made to the original resolution put forward at the CoM meeting in January, which caused further debate.
“Support can mean many things,” said Mayor Jim Gibson (Rapides-des-Joachims). “There’s nothing about money in the resolution, it’s just about expressing support for the project,” added Mayor Maurice Beauregard (Campbell’s Bay).
At vote time, nine mayors voted in favour and nine against, with Toller breaking the tie opposing it. However, with Mayor Serge Newberry (Calumet) absent and
pro-mayor Alice Pieschke replacing him, Mayor Colleen Larivière (Litchfield) questioned the validity of her vote since the MRC didn’t have a resolution
from Ile-du-Grand-Calumet officially designating her as Newberry’s replacement.
After heated debate about the issue and the ability to close the meeting without an answer, Bernard Roy, MRC director general, and Travis Ladouceur, county clerk, said they would have to consult municipal codes and possibly lawyers to determine the validity of Pieschke’s vote. On February 5, they concluded that Pieschke’s vote would stand given that Calumet adopted a resolution designating her as pro-mayor in April 2020 and they were unable to identify any element in the law or MRC policies that would justify disqualifying her vote. Therefore, the resolution remained defeated.
“I voted against the resolution because full support could include financial aspects and the MRC has already given generously. We just need to work on the wording because we’re all in favour of the bio-park. With amendments, it could be carried unanimously,” said Toller after the meeting.
The controversy began last November with two resolutions requiring a confirmation of federal funding and a commitment from a private company to locate its wood recovery facility in the Pontiac before the MRC would move forward with further support, including the forestry consulting contract with Pierre Vézina. The mayors came to a deadlock of nine votes for and nine against, with Toller breaking the tie in favour of both resolutions.
Fibre-Pontiac was supposed to research and operationalize a diversified project to recover value from forestry by-products; it has been in the works for eight years, under Vézina, with about $700,000 spent.