Thursday, 25 June 2009

The view from Rivière-au-Tonnerre, North Shore, Gulf of St Lawrence - by Ann Jarnet

Most people who hear about La Romaine know that Hydro-Québec has undertaken an immense hydro-electric construction project on a lovely river near Havre-Saint-Pierre on Québec's North Shore, along highway 138, the only road connecting a string of small villages to what the media call the "real world".

Those who talk about the project can be easily divided into two camps: those, usually "from away", who are against the project for environmental and other reasons; and, those who stand to benefit from royalties that will come from the sale of electricity, that is, the small communities which have suffered from the collapse of the fishing industry.

I live in Rivière-au-Tonnerre, 100 km west of Havre-Saint-Pierre, right on the highway. I have a lovely little house with an immense porch on which I can sit and stare at the sea from any angle as I have an uninterrupted view of the water from the extreme east to the extreme west. My little community of 325 people will benefit from the royalties, and some of the younger people (yes, there are a few left here) are hoping to find jobs on the Romaine project; others will be employed as a result of related economic activity. There's a new energy in the village, especially since we are hoping to join the Villages-Relais network which will encourage tourists to stop here and to linger before carrying on with their journey.

Environmental concerns? Yes. Hope for the future? Yes, I see a way and a pace of life here which pleases me as I move into "retirement mode" and I really don't want to lose that.

What really concerns me right now is the traffic on highway 138, that single artery which connects us to Sept-Iles, to Québec City, to Montreal. That single well-worn artery is being challenged as its rickety bridges, eroded curbs are being battered by immense trucks
carrying buildings, machinery and unusual and large objects for which I have no vocabulary. Meeting them on the highway means that even the small car must stop and hug the curb or even hit the gravel. I think the highway itself was an expansion of moose trails which curve and go up and down -- there are few places where one can safely pass another vehicle.

Dealing with these trucks in the village is quite another matter. Truck drivers do not slow down. The speed limit in my village is 50 km/hour; the trucks go by at 70 or 80 km/hour in my part of the village. Aside from the obvious safety issue, there is the noise level which offends me as the trucks drive by day and night. The damage to the road itself can't be forgotten as well.

A spirited neighbour who spends his days listening to his CB radio told me of a conversation he heard between two truck drivers who made comments about the decorations on a rather unique house in our village. The conversation focused on speculation that the decorations had been made by "some guy on welfare". My spirited friend was so insulted that he blasted those two drivers to smithereens even though the house was not his. Although he was laughing when he told me the story, I left with feelings of disappointment at the lack of respect that can result from such projects:

1. the Québec government seems to have no interest in investing in our highway which often is shut down because of floods, landslides, etc. Trucks in such numbers will only make our precious road more vulnerable. Some preparatory work by Transport Québec would have gone a long way; repairs will be far more expensive...

2. companies under contract to Hydro Québec (the driving force of Quebec Inc) need to "hurry" to extract as much profit from the work they do transporting goods to the construction site The concerns of citizens who live along the highway are not even part of the equation. I won't let my neigbours call it as "sustainable development" -- sustainable development has a social aspect that is often forgotten or, even worse, misunderstood. I'd have a bit to say about that.

3. our local politicians see hope for prosperity (attracting young families so that our school can stay open, for example) and may often "hold their noses" instead of insisting that our villages be treated with respect.

.... and this is just the beginning. Over the next ten years, there will be tens of thousands of such trucks coming and going 20 meters from my porch.

Texte complet de la chanson de Michel Rivard, tiré de son album Un trou dans ls nuages. Photomontage par seska2 de la côte nord.

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