The natural history of the Grande plée Bleue would have started around 9 500 years ago according to the works of Mr Martin LAVOIE, PH.D. and professor at Laval University. Texts related to the peatbog dating are found under the tab The peatbog’s age.
Events during the industrial revolution period have put at risk the ecological integrity of the Grande plée Bleue. Their consequences and impacts begin to be discovered and identified as studies on vegetation and researches in other subjects are progressing. In 1884, the Intercolonial Railway of Canada built the Saint-Charles Subdivision line, going across the Beaumont Lake, after pressures made by businessmen from the town of Lévis.
This structure left a major wound from the eastern side to the western side in the peatbog ecosystem. The scar is still open as the picture taken from the air in September 2013 shows it.
But, other more recent human activities were to be added to this first ecological perturbation of the habitat.
Closer to us, the building of the Harlaka railway spur in 1971 would certainly ease the development of a new economical project. This railway was therefore to be used to bring the crude oil to the Ultramar refinery that has been inaugurated on the first of October 1974. This type of product transported was to put at risk of contamination the peatbog if railway accidents were to occur. Since, three derailments actually happened, one causing a spill.
The first event has occurred on April the 13th 1999 near the Ville-Marie road when ten wagons left the track. These wagons have been emptied from their contents without damaging the environment. Source: Marc SAINT-PIERRE, in Le Soleil newspaper.
After that, on the 30th of April 2004 in Saint-Charles-de-Bellechasse, another derailment involving eight wagons happened. Following the article by Martine BOULIANE in Le Soleil newspaper, one among the wagons was filled with diesel and the seven other with petrol. The derailment occurred at the junction with the road 279. Specialists on the site have concluded that no oil spill took place.
Then, on August the 17th 2004, the Grande plée Bleue was to live through an event with consequences still affecting it ten years later. «A spill from 18 tank cars, a unit-train with petroleum products owned by the Canadian National (CN) arriving from the Ultramar Refinery in Lévis, carrying 200 000 liters of petrol and heating oil has occurred around 2.30 pm.», mentioned in a report of Transport Canada available on this site at the tab DOCUMENTATION.
After long lasting negotiations between the department of Sustainable Development, Environment and Fight against climatic changes (and its previous versions) and the Canadian National, this company announced in may 2014 that it would decontaminate two small areas still contaminated.
Here are pictures and explanations about the two experimental processes in decontamination and rehabilitation used in the two natural sectors involved.
On GPS – Latitude 46,7873870 N – Longitude 71,02820 W – Altitude 94m (308 ft.)
On June the 18th, I visited the first sector located south of the railway; I was guided by Mr François Quinty, specialized in peatbogs at Golger Associés Ltée in Quebec. This area that should be rehabilitated is identified as a bog.
After a meticulous evaluation among different decontamination processes available, an approach in situ has been chosen by the specialists, meaning that the environment by itself with the help of a technological intervention should be able to decontaminate the oily residues left underground. In order to carry out all these technological interventions, a wooden platform on barrels has to be built to diminish as much as possible any perturbation of this structure on the environment.
The chosen technique will inject air (oxygen) to stimulate bacteria already in the soil; the oxygen should so accelerate the degradation process of the hydrocarbons left underground.
On GPS – Latitude 46,7874330 N – Longitude 71,0272270 W – Altitude 99 m (325 ft.)
On September the 16th 2014, I visited this time the northern part. This sector is identified as a fen. The chosen technique for this specific environment is more spectacular and more invasive than the first one.
1 – Clearing the area
2 – Excavating to extract the contaminated peat on the site
3 – Installing uncontaminated peat taken from an outside site
4 – Covering with herbaceous plants, from the clearing leftovers, and straw to keep humidity on the surface
5 – Planting about a hundred trees and shrubs of various types
6 – Sowing mixed seeds selected for this experimental project
Here are some explanations from Mr François Quinty.
1 – Clearing of woody plants (bushes) before any excavation has to be done. Herbaceous plants are then cut down; they will be used later as a mulch cover including seeds that should allow the seeding and help the growth and return of vegetal species existing before the oil spill. The renaturilization of the excavated surface should be this way facilitated. This natural recuperation will provide a better regeneration of the vegetation cover respecting the original ecosystem.
2 – Peat will be extracted from a surface of approximately 1 500 m2.
3 – The new peat installed comes from a peatbog in Saint-Charles-de-Bellechasse owned by Les Tourbières Smith (Canada) Inc. The plant matter comes from another peatbog located in Saint-Henri-de-Lévis owned by Premier Horticulture Ltée.
10 cm of this substrate has been extracted including a seed bank, mosses and other vegetation fragments, all to be installed on the site in restoration.
As it would be difficult to guess the conditions of the soil in the future, the company workers took the plants from two outside sites, the first one being a richer area already restored, and the other one, located in a bog. The result should give a mix, helping plant to establish themselves thanks to better conditions, this selected plants variety having a strong capacity to adapt.
4 – After this stage, straw will be spread on the ground, first to allow humidity retention, preventing the drying of the plantation to follow, and secondly, to avoid the installation of invasive and unwanted plants. This process is the common intervention in peatbog restoration.
5 – Planting of several species identified on the site before the extraction of the plant material:
6 – At the end of the process, a seed mix prepared for this purpose will be sowed to ensure the growth of a vegetation cover as soon as possible. This will prevent the installation of species that should not grow there, like the common reed (phragmites) and other invasive plants.
All these efforts in decontamination, rehabilitation and research will need a two years follow up by the Canadian National authorized staff. On invitation, I should be present to show you the results of these interventions and watch the vegetation coming back to life.
Text: JEAN-PAUL DOYON
Translation and correction: FRANÇOISE DE MONTIGNY-PELLETIER
I am grateful to all the persons who helped me to watch and report to the public these environmental interventions by the Canadian National, more specifically the ones having occurred in the Grande plée Bleue peatbog which should gain ecological benefits from them in the decades to come.
2 – David GAGNÉ, historien.
Nuria DE LEON PEREZ (director of communications – CN Public Affairs)
Mélanie ALLAIRE (CN environment lawyer)
Véronique BLAIS (hydrogeologist for Golder Associés Ltée)
François QUINTY (Master in geography, peatbog specialist for Golder Associés Ltée)
David GAGNÉ (historian for the town of Lévis)
Louis-François GARCEAU | Groupe TRAQ, Charny
Adrien d’ASTOUS | Groupe TRAQ, Charny
Jonathan MONTMINY-MORIN (photographer for the province of Quebec dept. MDDELCC**)
Guy PARADIS (photographer) | MDDELCC**
Notes: * MDDEFP = Ministère du développement durable, de l’environnement, de la faune et des parcs, Gouvernement du Québec
** MDDELCC = Ministère du développement durable, de l’environnement et de la lutte aux changements climatiques, Gouvernement du Québec