Will traffic flow trump water flow in Wakefield?

lines are the existing roads, grey lines are the proposed highway expansion including the cut through the mountain.

Lines are the existing roads, grey lines are the proposed highway expansion including the cut through the mountain.

Stop me if you have heard this one before. After 26 years, a construction plan is finally about to be implemented which will threaten an exceptional source of spring water that has been used for generations. You could be forgiven for thinking that this sounds like the story of Site 41 (before the victory over that planned garbage dump) but this is happening in the small hamlet of Wakefield, Quebec just north of Ottawa on the edge of beautiful Gatineau Park. Regular listeners to CBC radio will recognize Wakefield as the home of that legendary musical venue, The Black Sheep Inn. One of the other legends of the area is the Wakefield Spring.  It may not be as pure as the water at Site 41 (which is still the purest groundwater ever tested anywhere on the planet) but it is the best tasting water that I have ever had the privilege to drink.

I kept having a sense of déjà vu during a visit to Wakefield on Tuesday. A local group-SOSWakefield has taken on the responsibility of defending the spring from the poorly conceived expansion of nearby Highway A-5, a project that will carve away a mountain top and flatten a few thousand trees before paving a pair of massive “traffic circles” across the suspected recharge zone of the spring itself. Although this plan was devised in 1986, the Quebec government has decided that there is no need to re-examine its environmental impact which reminded me of the Ontario government’s refusal to submit the decades old approval of Site 41 to an examination using today’s environmental standards. An approval is an approval regardless of what is learned later. Clearly our governments are short-sighted in both official languages.

It was a press conference that brought me to Wakefield where we joined with, Ecojustice, The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and SOSWakefield to call for some a comprehensive environmental assessment and a full public consultation on the design options for the highway extension and entrances. The only opportunity for this up until now was a 45-day window that opened and closed in 1987. SOSWakefield is not necessarily against the concept of highway expansion but they recognize that the purported economic and safety benefits have been greatly exaggerated and they say that if the expansion must happen, it should have as little impact as possible. The “traffic circles” will permit cars to roar along without stopping for the occasional red at the traffic lights that currently guard the entrance to the village, a short walk from the spring.

The dedicated members of SOSWakefield have a good deal of expertise and energy to draw upon, both inside their group and amongst their allies. They would like the government to consider wildlife corridors, the protection of a nearby wetland, species at risk, minimal disturbance to the mountain top and a connection to the highway that suits the scale and character of their village.

But time is not on their side. The next phase of construction will commence in March.

After the press conference, I told them about the month long blockade at Site 41 and the eighty-year-old grandparents who were willing to be arrested in order to buy time and bring public attention to the lunacy of that project.  I heard a familiar resolve in the voice of one silver haired, Wakefield resident when she said “Well if that’s what it takes to stop them, then so be it. ”

We have seen time and time again that governments will not protect the water unless they are put under considerable pressure to do so. It is up to our neighbours and our communities. It is up to us.

Please help SOSWakefield in their efforts. Sign their petition online at http://www.soswakefield.ca/index.html

Mark Calzavara

Regional Organizer

Ontario, Quebec and Nunavut