There was high drama in Danford Lake Feb. 6 as council for Alleyn and Cawood tabled a disputed motion to rescind support for the engineered landfill proposed in the municipality.
A rowdy crowd of 80 people turned up at the council meeting, and most came to voice opposition to the controversial project which would see the tiny community become the repository for much of the Outaouais region's waste.The issue has stoked passionate debate and divided the community in what has become a classic clash between an irresistible force and an immovable object.
The irresistible force is hardening opposition to the proposal made manifest in the rapidly expanding citizens' coalition against the dump and "stop the mega dump" placards sprouting all over the community.
The immovable object defying this gathering storm is Danford Mayor Joe Squitty, whose steadfast support for the proposal has alienated constituents, divided council, and allowed the issue to dominate every recent council meeting at the expense of regular municipal business.
On Monday night the resulting impasse was plain to see, though there were signs the immovable object was rattled, even though he wouldn't budge.
Squitty faced a barrage of questions from the crowd, all relating to the dump. People wanted to know why their requests for information has gone unanswered, why they hadn't been better informed about the proposal before council resolved to support it, if council would be willing to call a referendum on the issue, and if council would have supported the proposal in the first place had public opposition to it been as clear then as it is today.
This last question exposed the first public cracks in Danford council when members of the audience insisted each of the four councilors present answer it in turn. The first to respond, after a long expectant hush, was Michel Chartrand.
The crowd erupted into tumultuous, sustained cheering and applause. Noise the likes of which most libraries should never see. Councilors Charlene Scharf and Ricky Lafleur set off more applause when they joined Chartrand in answering no. Only Alan Peck stood by council's original position, even with the benefit of hindsight.
"Yes, I would still want to see the proper information," he said. "You don't intimidate me."
Squitty was undeterred. He told the crowd council was waiting for legal advice on the question of a referendum. There is a concern Alleyn and Cawood might be liable for the cost of the engineering studies the landfill's promoter, LDC Environmental, has funded believing the project enjoyed the support of the municipality. The studies are expected to be complete and submitted to the Quebec government in three weeks' time, and Squitty is "tentatively" predicting the legal opinion on the referendum question will arrive around March 15. The opinion that mattered to people at the meeting was their own, and many were clearly frustrated at the mayor's unwillingness to acknowledge public sentiment and withdraw support for the landfill.
"You have an obligation to represent the will of your community and if it opposes the proposal you should rescind your support for it," coalition member Andre Carriere said.
Squitty set a limit of 30 minutes at the close of the meeting for questions. The final question fell to Stacy Molyneaux, who called on councilor Scharf to table a motion rescinding council's support for the landfill proposal. She did, and the crowd erupted in a cheer so loud it actually eclipsed the one from earlier.
The motion was seconded by councilor Lafleur setting off another explosion before all eyes turned to councilor Chartrand to see if it would carry. There were some tormented glances exchanged between Squitty and Chartrand before the latter let out a sigh and said he would abstain.
The crowd deflated recognising Peck and Squitty would oppose, and the meeting disintegrated with people filing out the door only to reassemble into excited groups outside where they dissected the remarkable turn of events.
The following day, Andre Carriere was still trying to make sense of what transpired and determine if in fact the motion to rescind support for the landfill had passed, we're trying to figure out what really happened here," he said. Whether or not the motion passed, Carriere said that it even came close represents quite a victory to opponents of the landfill. "Last night was clearly a very big turning point."
The citizens' coalition hopes to build on that momentum Feb. 12, at 1:00p.m. when it will host a public meeting at Danford's Bethany Hall to present information concerning the proposal.