Dispatches from the 148 by Fred Ryan
Dispatches from the 148 by Fred Ryan
Some thirty years ago, the power station and tunnel were built at the Coulonge Chutes outside Fort Coulonge and the company was given permission to draw off most of the river’s flow during certain times and seasons. In exchange, the company offered not only construction jobs but a couple of permanent caretaker jobs and a nice contribution to build the Chutes Park – which has become very attractive, one of Pontiac’s few tourism infrastructure assets. There were other items in the bargaining and one was an assurance that Pontiac would be better served with electricity than formerly. You see where this is going?
MRC-Pontiac made this deal – our mayors, with input from the CLD at the time. There were complaints that the MRC was “giving away” this resource. The company had designs on the Black River as well – above its present generating facility (and dam) outside Waltham. The company proposed a new dam near the 50:50 rapids, if I’m not mistaken. Citizen mobilisation – the Friends of Pontiac’s Rivers – stopped this plan (in a battle similar to today’s efforts to preserve
our PPJ cycling trail within Québec’s Route Verte network.)
The Chutes project was signed, the 50:50 saved, the Waltham station was upgraded instead and – most important today – we were assured of an upgraded regional hydro network. There were a few other sweeteners, but the MRC declined to negotiate regular royalties from the hydro produced here. Better service would be enough!
So how is it that in 2019-20, this newspaper has reported a series of service breakdowns across this region – with resulting varying-voltage damages? Service seems no better today than before the Chutes were signed away.
Since that agreement for the Chutes, the company has been sold or incorporated into another, changed its name and offices. It has almost no administrative (or even
service) presence in the Pontiac any more, it seems. Except what’s needed for the two hydro facilities.
Here’s an aside: there seems to be similarities between that Hydro-Pontiac deal and today’s SNC Lavalin proposal to build a massive radioactive dump just upstream from the Pontiac. Many promises of benefits – and appeals to the benefits of nuclear medicine or nuclear power research – but no commitments. SNC-CNL is floating a lot of promotional material promising innumerable but vague benefits – as did Hydro-Pontiac! The SNC-CNL dump, however, could leave us not only with unfulfilled promises but a very toxic environment: our water, air, even farmland fatally compromised. Let’s keep Hydro-Pontiac’s promises in mind!
Is there no avenue today’s dynamic MRC can pursue to improve Upper Pontiac’s hydro services? Has the MRC no leverage, no legal means, no moral suasion it can use to force the company to at least deliver 24-hour reliable electricity?
The MRC is about to launch consultations (in person and on-line) on a new “Strategic Vision” for the MRC. Should reliable electricity service not be put in there? Reliable service seems almost a human right, especially in our difficult climate, and it’s a complete necessity for business and industry. The present condition of hydro service in the Upper Pontiac could in itself kill industrial investment in the area – unless we insist any new industry must generate its own electricity! Hardly an attraction for investment.
It’s correct and important that the MRC promote tourism and generalised business activity, and, probably, that the MRC’s agents explore reviving our forest industry. But one of the Warden’s signal projects is to generate electricity by
burning imported waste. Yet this project might easily send all its hydro away! Could Pontiac gain the jobs and royalties (presumed) – but no actual hydro? Isn’t there an opportunity here? Can we insist the electricity produced first be sent to the Pontiac? Insisting on that might stimulate Hydro-Quebec, at least on the supply side.
And, frankly, the Pontiac’s needs and resources never present themselves in a straight line but as a complex nest of mutual supports and dependencies. So let’s get hydro back in all the Pontiac – starting with Hydro-Pontiac!