Sat. Apr 20th, 2024

“There are as many strangers on your side as on our side,” a citizen reproached the officials.

Qué bec does not know what Northvolt will release into the air and water

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The bank of the Richelieu River, at the junction of the towns of McMasterville and Saint-Basile-le-Grand, right next to the Northvolt site.

  • Thomas Gerbet (View profile)Thomas Gerbet

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Residents deplore the lack of knowledge from the Quebec Ministry of the Environment regarding the details of the Northvolt battery mega-factory project, even though the green light for the work has already been given. During two public information sessions held in recent days, in McMasterville and Saint-Basile-le-Grand, senior officials were unable to answer certain questions from citizens.

The Ministry of the Environment has no idea of ​​the atmospheric emissions that the future industrial complex will produce. Officials also do not know what will be released into the Richelieu River or the quantities of water that will be withdrawn to cool the industrial process.

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Public information sessions on Northvolt with Quebec officials took place Wednesday and Thursday evening, but the Quebec government made the videos public on Monday.

Several residents asked questions about withdrawals from the river, the source of drinking water for municipalities in the region. Currently, we do not have an [authorization] request, so I do not have any data to share with you, replied the regional director of the Ministry of the Environment in Montérégie, Stefanos Bitzakidis.

These are concerns that will be taken into account when analyzing the request, added the senior official.

As far as noise is concerned, we will receive sound studies. We don't have them yet, he said.

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On the topic of battery recycling, fellow environmental assessment director Ian Courtemanche said: I'm not able to answer this question. I don't have the project.

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Christine Lambert, from Saint-Basile-le-Grand, is looking for answers to her questions.

The vast majority of citizens who came to the microphone, during the two information sessions which lasted a total of seven and a half hours, were in favor of the project, but had questions about the lack of information, even the lack of transparency, which makes them more and more doubtful.

Initially, I was really for the project. It’s a nice company, yes. She looks very clean. But there are so many answers missing that I am more and more lost and less and less confident.

A quote from Christine Lambert, resident of Saint-Basile-le-Grand, during the government's public information session

The reason why the ministry ignores these details is that the evaluation of the project was divided into several authorization phases. No applications have yet been filed by the Swedish company regarding plant operations, contaminant discharges, water sampling or hazardous materials management.

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Work to prepare the vast land of the industrial complex began on last month.

For the moment, only the preparation of the land has been studied and approved, with the filling of 14 hectares of wetlands and the felling of thousands of trees. Authorization for the construction of the factory is currently under review, but has not yet been approved.

I don't understand your process of authorizing a small piece, without even having an idea of ​​the big picture, a noticed Christine Lambert, who is an engineer.

Another citizen, Pierre Gohier, said he had the feeling that the first phase of the project had been adopted blindly.

It's as if we had the [project for the] Bell Center, then we had just studied the cabin at hot dogs.

A quote from Pierre Gohier, citizen present at the government's public information session

Supposing that authorization is refused, what do we do with the wetlands filled in and the wildlife destroyed? asked a lawyer from Mont-Saint-Hilaire, Cédric Gagnon-Bouchard, present in the room. How are you going to put the toothpaste back in the tube?

Radio-Canada revealed last week that a ministry official had raised the same question to his superiors.

In response to these concerns, Stefanos Bitzakidis explained that the Ministry of the Environment had the footprint of the project which allowed it to issue the first authorization.

The senior official added that he had never seen, in his career, an authorization for the destruction of wetlands which had not subsequently given rise to a project in the area in question. question.

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The Northvolt project will be built on 171 hectares of land which is a former industrial site where “nature has reclaimed its rights”, explained the representative of the Ministry of the Environment.

My conclusion this evening is that there are as many unknowns on your side as on our side, expressed Jacinthe Villeneuve, resident of McMasterville, during the meeting. public information.

Several citizens question the division of the project into different pieces. We consulted our lawyers, replied Ian Courtemanche, from the Ministry of the Environment. This is how we come to the conclusion that we have three different factories.

The senior official explained that, in the past, the BlackRock Metals and GNL Québec projects in Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean also gave rise to a segmentation of authorizations.

The Northvolt project is made up of a cathode manufacturing plant, another battery assembly plant and a battery assembly plant. a third for battery recycling. Only the latter will be subject to examination by the Bureau d'public hearings on the environment (BAPE). The first two escaped, following regulatory changes made in 2023, which is the subject of criticism.

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Representation of the future Northvolt factory in Montérégie, on the company's website.

The Ministry of the Environment wanted to assure citizens that at each stage of authorization, Northvolt must demonstrate that its project complies with laws and regulations.

Atmospheric emissions will have to respect Quebec standards, explained Stefanos Bitzakidis. And if a contaminant does not appear in the current standards, we will set, as a ministry, a criterion for that contaminant.

With regard to the repercussions on the river, there will be a complete characterization to be carried out to validate the dispersion study and environmental objectives of discharges which take into account the flow and the fauna, first and foremost the copper redhorse, a protected fish which only exists in Quebec.

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Stefanos Bitzakidis, regional director of the Ministry of the Environment in Montérégie

The company must also demonstrate that it will have a sealed storage area for hazardous materials. The ministry will require it to complete a register which shows that the arrangement is correct.

In its processes, Northvolt uses, among other things, nickel, cobalt and lithium. There will be surveillance and control measures, added Mr. Bitzakidis.

A few dissonant voices were heard in the audience, such as a citizen who worried that the wildlife protection measures imposed on the project cost 100 million per turtle.

We must have a fair balance between protection and an aberration where each sparrow becomes a god that cannot be moved .

A quote from A citizen present at the public information session

This gentleman then displayed a poster which indicated: We want Northvolt.

Northvolt representatives were not present during the meeting sessions ;information. By email, the company informed Radio-Canada that authorization requests will be submitted to the MELCCFP later concerning environmental aspects linked to the operating phase of the plant (e.g. atmospheric emissions, consumption of water, liquid discharges, etc.)

We adapt the factory design to comply with environmental standards in force in Quebec.

A quote from Emmanuelle Rouillard-Moreau, Northvolt spokesperson for North America

We intend to make atmospheric data regarding the Quebec project public when the plant design is finalized, the company added.

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Officials from the Ministries of Economy, Environment and Transport answered citizens' questions.

Several citizens thanked the officials for the time which they granted them. It's courageous of you to have come, said one man, addressing officials from the Ministries of Economy, Environment and Transport who were present.

Some would have liked to do the same exercise with the elected officials responsible for the file. The questions we have are political, then the politician walked away and sent civil servants, underlined a participant.

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The Northvolt project has been announced on September 28, 2023, but it was months in the making.

The director of metallurgy and industrial products at the Quebec Ministry of Economy, Innovation and Energy, Gabriel Audet, made a presentation to explain that the mega-factory will make it possible to build here the greenest battery in North America which will help achieve transportation electrification goals.

The site chosen in Montérégie is a location strategic, close to the northeastern United States, where there are several automobile manufacturers.

Quebec has all the assets to stand out with the battery sector, he detailed: minerals from Quebec territory, the production of electric commercial vehicles (buses , trucks, recreational vehicles) and battery recycling.

The governments of Quebec and Canada are investing $7 billion in the project, which is the largest manufacturing project in the history of the province.

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