CSL votes 4-2 to sell land for new B’nai Brith residence

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The Suburban | Nov. 19, 2014 | Click to enlarge

The Suburban | Nov. 19, 2014 | Click to enlarge

Safety Setbacks Could Make Meadowbrook Residential Development Impossible


The following article was written by Cote Saint-Luc Councillor Dida Berku and appeared in the Autumn 2013 Les Amis de Meadowbrook Newsletter.

I have supported Dida Berku from the outset in the quest to preserve Meadowbrook. You can get all the background info on this 25 year effort by searching “Meadowbrook” on this blog.

Dida’s efforts may very well benefit not only those of us who advocate to keep this invaluable piece of land as green space in perpetuity for all to enjoy, but many other spaces across the country.

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Safety Setbacks Could Make Meadowbrook Residential Development Impossible

By Dida Berku

It is now clear that the catastrophic derailment in Lac Mégantic last July helped convince Montreal’s political leaders of the need for safety setbacks to protect new residences from the hazards of adjacent railways.

Last month, Montreal City Council and the mayors of all Island suburbs unanimously adopted a resolution directing the city’s urban planning department to integrate the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) proximity guidelines into the new urban plan of the Island of Montreal, scheduled to be adopted in 2014.

These guidelines were established by the FCM, which represents all cities across the country, and the Railway Association of Canada (RAC), which represents all its railway companies. The guidelines, first written a decade ago and updated in 2013, propose 30-metre setbacks from railway main lines and 300-metre setbacks from rail yards for all new housing projects.

Meadowbrook is 300 metres wide at the Cote St. Luc entrance and narrows to a point at the boundary of Lachine and Montreal West. Since Meadowbrook is adjacent to the CP yards in Cote St. Luc and the Sortin yards in Lachine, which houses AMT commuter railway repair shops, the adoption of these guidelines in Montreal’s new urban plan would make it practically impossible for any new homes to be built on this site.

For many years, Les Amis has advocated against building housing in proximity to the extensive rail lines and yards near the golf course. The adoption of these guidelines is a major step towards establishing Meadowbrook as a buffer zone between rail activities and housing.

I drafted the proposed resolution, and I can honestly say that this is one of the most gratifying accomplishments of my political career, and a critical milestone in the long journey to save Meadowbrook from development and transform it into a park.

Montreal will be the first city in Canada to embrace these guidelines and will be in a good position to ask the railways to improve the safety and security of their activities in our communities.

Now, let’s all see how we can leverage this resolution in our efforts to protect this precious green space. Meanwhile, Les Amis will continue to monitor and push for these guidelines to be adopted and integrated into the Island of Montreal’s new urban plan.


Les retraits de sécurité pourraient rendre impossible le développement de Meadowbrook

par Dida Berku

La catastrophe de Lac Mégantic en juillet dernier a finalement convaincu les élus montréalais qu’il fallait des retraits de sécurité afin de protéger les nouvelles résidences des accidents ferroviaires.

Le mois denier, le conseil municipal de Montréal et les maires des villes de banlieue de l’île de Montréal ont unanimement adopté une résolution enjoignant au service d’urbanisme d’intégrer les directives de la Fédération canadienne des municipalités (FCM) dans le nouveau plan d’urbanisme de l’île de Montréal qui doit être adopté en 2014.

Ces directives ont été établies par la FCM, qui représente toutes les villes canadiennes, et l’Association des chemins de fer du Canada (ACFC), qui représente toutes les compagnies ferroviaires. Ces directives, rédigées il y a une dizaine d’années et mises à jour en 2013, proposent que tout nouveau projet résidentiel soit éloigné de 30 mètres des voies ferrées et de 300 mètres des gares de triage.

Meadowbrook fait 300 mètres de largeur à l’entrée de Côte St. Luc et se termine en pointe à la limite de Lachine et Montréal-Ouest. Puisque Meadowbrook voisine la gare de triage du CP à Côte St. Luc et la gare de triage Sortin à Lachine, où se trouvent les ateliers de l’AMT, l’adoption de ces directives rendrait à toutes fins impossible la construction de nouvelles maisons sur le site.

Depuis plusieurs années, Les Amis fait des représentations contre la construction de résidences à proximité des voies ferrées et des gares de triage près du terrain de golf. L’adoption de ces directives marque un grand pas pour faire de Meadowbrook une zone tampon entre les activités ferroviaires et l’habitation.

J’ai rédigé la résolution et je peux dire qu’il s’agit de l’une des réalisations les plus gratifiantes de ma carrière politique et d’un jalon important pour sauver Meadowbrook du développement et le transformer en parc.

Montréal est la première ville canadienne à appuyer ces directives et sera ainsi mieux positionnée pour demander aux compagnies ferroviaires d’améliorer la sécurité de leurs opérations dans nos collectivités.

Voyons maintenant comment nous pouvons utiliser cette résolution pour protéger ce précieux espace vert. Les Amis continuera de surveiller et de pousser l’adoption de ces directives et leur intégration au nouveau plan d’urbanisme de l’île de Montréal.

City council: New rules would prevent construction near tracks, railway yards


City council: New rules would prevent construction near tracks, railway yards. (Montreal Gazette) Link removed.

In brief:

  • Montreal has adopted new rules that would forbid the construction of new buildings within 30 metres of busy train tracks and 300 metres of a railway yard.
  • The new rules would also outline steps that could be taken to improve safety and reduce nuisances like noise and vibrations from rail operations, such as installing safety fences, berms and noise barriers.
  • Montreal city council voted unanimously Tuesday to adopt the new guidelines, drawn up by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Railway Association of Canada. They would be included in Montreal’s new urban plan, which must be adopted by the end of 2014.
  • Montreal’s agglomeration council is also expected to approve them Thursday, extending them across the island of Montreal.
  • Côte-St-Luc city councillor Dida Berku has been calling for more than 20 years for municipalities to adopt railway setback guidelines for development and said she was “elated” when Montreal city council adopted them.
  • The new guidelines could mean the controversial development of the west-end Meadowbrook golf course would not be allowed to proceed. The golf course, which is in Lachine and Côte-St-Luc, has a train yard on its north and west side, with train tracks running east-west through the golf course itself. Several housing developments have been proposed for the site over the past 25 years. Montreal has said building municipal infrastructure for the site is too costly.

This is excellent news.  I have supported this theory in order to safeguard residents living near rail lines and yards for 20 years and I’ve echoed Dida Berku’s call to protect Meadowbrook, in large part, because of this potential danger.

It is sad that this position by the City of Montreal had to follow such a horrible tragedy but Lac Megantic has served as a wake up call for municipalities across Canada.

Cote Saint-Luc has been very progressive in assuring Meadowbrook’s future as a green space. This resolution, soon to be presented to the Montreal Agglomeration Council will give greater assurance on its ultimate preservation.


Rail firms keep Montreal officials in the dark, won’t reveal freight details

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Safety a vital issue for municipalities like Côte St. Luc


MONTREAL – Montreal officials responsible for public security have no idea how much oil or hazardous materials pass through the city each day, or where it’s being transported.

“The information that we have on the materials that are transported is almost nil,” said Louise Bradette, department head at Montreal’s centre de sécurité civile. “All of that is under federal jurisdiction.”

For at least 10 years, Montreal has been asking to know what types, how much and where hazardous materials are being transported, Bradette said, but like all Canadian municipalities, has been refused on the basis it could open sites to sabotage or terrorist attacks. Under federal legislation, rail companies are not obligated to share the information.

“The way we answer this question in Montreal is with our public security plan, as they did in Lac-Mégantic,” Bradette said. “So the response for this type of disaster is the response we can give with our emergency crews.”

The public security office carries out detailed inspections on all fixed-site corporations that carry hazardous materials so it can know the risks and structure its emergency response protocols. It would like the same information regarding the transportation of dangerous materials, and in rail yards, “but its not within our powers to force the creator of those risks to provide us with the information.”

For a west-end municipality like Côte St. Luc, home to 31,000 people who are encircled by train tracks and located next to the largest rail yard in Quebec, rail safety is a vital concern.

“Côte St. Luc is basically in a rail yard,” city councillor Dida Berku said. “We have two entrances to the city that are underpasses that go under train lines, we are surrounded by train tracks, so definitely an incident like this brings the risks, and the notions of risk, to the forefront.”

Freight trains in their municipality share tracks with commuter trains run by the Agence métropolitaine de transport, increasing the risk, Berku noted. Many homes in Côte St. Luc are located within 20 metres of train tracks.

“CP makes the argument that we were there first and it’s your ill-advised zoning that has allowed buildings too close to the tracks,” Berku said. “Well, it’s the tracks and what’s going in the rail yards that should be safe. Whether (houses are set back) 10 metres or 50 metres, if there’s an accident of this magnitude, it’s not going to make a difference.”

In Europe, where rail lines are often government regulated, rules are much more stringent, she noted.

Côte St. Luc has asked CP for a meeting to discuss what can be done to further protect their community, and what changes CP is making in the wake of the incident.

Locomotives pulling dozens of tanker cars laden with oil rumble by 50 metres away from the home of Côte St. Luc resident and railway expert Avrom Shtern Monday morning. They will pass over the railway span that runs next to the Mercier Bridge, then head south to the Port of Albany where the oil will be transported to barges and floated to refineries in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

“The train that caused the catastrophic damage and loss of life in Lac-Mégantic also passed by this house,” Shtern noted.

The Canadian Federation of Railways and the Railway Association of Canada established guidelines years ago saying residences must be set back at least 30 metres from rail lines and 300 metres from rail yards. But without the backing of federal legislation, they are often ignored.

“It comes up against promoters who just want to build anywhere, and really don’t care if it’s right next to a technological risk, like a railway,” Shtern said.

Those guidelines don’t mean much if rail companies fail to maintain their tracks and continue to use old, unsafe technologies. In particular, Shtern said, the industry needs to replace the DOT 111 rail cars that were rated deficient in a Transportation Safety Board of Canada report almost 20 years ago. Some of those cars were involved in Saturday’s tragedy.

Because of the interconnectedness of the North American train network, however, that’s an issue that must be dealt with across the continent. With Canada’s main rail companies, CP and Canadian National, owned primarily by U.S. interests, Shtern doesn’t see changes happening soon.

Five years ago, there was hardly any oil transported by train through Montreal. It’s a practice that fell out of favour after the Second World War. But with a lack of pipelines and a surge in U.S. oil derived from fracking, trains have become the cheapest and most efficient means of transport.

Some say the rail boom will diminish, but Shtern isn’t so sure. Rail companies are investing heavily in new rail cars and terminals, in part because ethanol is gaining favour.

Ethanol, Shtern notes, is much more explosive than oil.


© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette

Thinking about the townspeople in Lac Megantic


It’s hard not to be consumed in the tragic news pouring out of Lac Megantic, an iconic Eastern Townships municipality that conjures images that are serene and picturesque.  The horrific images beaming around the world coupled with the heartbreaking stories of families and friends devastated by this disaster seem surreal and out of place, especially given the enormity of what has transpired only a short drive from our own homes here in Cote Saint-Luc.

What’s also of concern is the similarity of our two towns given that both have a history deeply connected to the railway.  Indeed, Cote Saint-Luc’s very own coat of arms depicts the railroad, an important part of the history of our community.

I am often asked by residents about railway activity in the St-Luc Yards, owned by CP Rail, reputedly one of the largest shunting (also known as marshalling) yards in Eastern Canada. The fact is the railways in may ways predated modern Cote Saint-Luc, and Canadian laws pertaining to railways predate and supersede most of the laws governing municipalities.

In the pre-merger years (pre-2002) the Cote Saint-Luc Fire Department would receive a weekly inventory from CP Rail listing all materials that were being transported through our city. With the municipal mergers we lost our own fire department and the authority to deal with the railway at that level.

Nevertheless, our residents routinely see every kind of box car and tanker car parked along Mackle road in the St-Luc Yards. So, it isn’t unreasonable to ask questions ourselves.

Here are a few questions I’ve been trying to understand since learning of the tragedy not too far away:

  • Why was the Montreal Maine & Atlantic train carrying 72 cars (all or most carrying crude oil) and a locomotive left unattended when its conductor ended his shift? Was there no night watchman or other personnel with the train? Don’t dozens of cars worth millions of dollars require some surveillance against thieves, terrorists, natural or man-made disaster?
  • Was there a GPS locator on the locomotive and a monitored control centre so that someone would know the exact location and movement of that train within meters at every given moment?
  • Why would a train be parked on a hill or slope?  Is this permitted by law? Does it make sense given that any brake failure will result in gravity doing its thing? Shouldn’t trains always be parked on level terrain?
  • A fire was reported on the locomotive an hour before the explosion and fire crews responded to douse the flames. Shouldn’t there be a standard operating procedure, particularly in the case of dozens of cars carrying highly flammable liquids, to immediately separate the car on fire from the rest of the train for a period of time to allow for a proper investigation and a cooling down of the car?

I will be reading the media reports attentively looking for these answers and more and wondering what will be learned from this tragedy to ensure it never happens again. I am always consumed with thinking about emergency preparedness here in Cote Saint-Luc and what we would do in case of a disaster. This tragedy will get me thinking even more.

Meanwhile, my thoughts and prayers are with the townspeople of Lac Magantic. Please donate whatever you can through bonafide organizations that will be collecting on their behalf.

Meadowbrook friends promote their master plan

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From Les Amis de Meadowbrook:

As a result of the hard work of many organizations and individuals working in concert with Les Amis de Meadowbrook, the City of Montreal now has what it needs to protect this precious green space and create Meadowbrook Park.

Several recent initiatives by Les Amis de Meadowbrook helped move the process forward: a news conference to launch a Master Plan for a Meadowbrook Urban Nature Heritage Park, accessible to all; and a separate press conference to disclose the results of an investigation by the lobbying commissioner of Quebec that revealed illegal lobbying activities by the developer Groupe Pacific over a number of years.

With the iron now hot, we must continue to build public support for the park and ensure that our elected representatives continue to support the idea.

The first step will be to enforce the 300-meter safety setback for residences from the surrounding marshalling yards, as mandated by both the Railway Association of Canada and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. In this regard, Montreal City Council has just adopted a resolution mandating the city’s Executive Committee, in collaboration with the Borough of Lachine, to undertake a study of all proposals for sustainable development of Meadowbrook, with particular reference to the safety setbacks and to the formal opposition to development expressed by both CP Rail and the AMT. We are in full support of this resolution, and would particularly like to thank Vision Montréal, Projet Montréal and the whole Municipal Council for taking this important step.

With Meadowbrook unable to be developed for safety reasons, the portion of Meadowbrook that is in the Borough of Lachine should be rezoned to recreational from residential. Côte Saint-Luc rezoned its portion to recreational in 2000.

The final step is the creation of Meadowbrook Park. The recently unveiled Master Plan was prepared for Les Amis de Meadowbrook by landscape architecture firm Catalyse Urbaine, in collaboration with the Conseil régional de l’environnement de Montréal (CRE-Montréal). The plan proposes converting the 57-hectare space into an Urban Nature Heritage Park, accessible to all Montrealers. New pedestrian and cycling paths would integrate Meadowbrook with existing recreational networks and make the park easily accessible to the densely populated areas of St. Pierre and Lachine.

In taking delivery of the Master Plan on behalf of the city, Josée Duplessis, the executive committee member in charge of sustainable development, undertook to have the city administration study the plan. She also applauded the initiative, saying, “We have a new generation of ecologists who, instead of just demanding projects from public officials, present real, concrete projects that can be worked on.”

The Master Plan was paid for by the fundraising efforts of Les Amis de Meadowbrook last year. It incorporates the views of a variety of community members who last fall attended a one-day design charette, or workshop, to discuss the potential uses for and design of Meadowbrook Park.

The issue of illegal lobbying follows a 2010 complaint to the Quebec lobbying commissioner, lodged by Les Amis member Campbell Stuart, acting as a private citizen. The commissioner’s three-year investigation found that Suzanne Deschamps, vice-president of development and legal affairs at Groupe Pacific, lobbied municipal and Hydro Quebec employees on at least 13 occasions between 2008 and 2010 without being registered as a lobbyist, as required by Quebec law. Stuart turned the commissioner’s findings over to Les Amis, which made them public.

Meadowbrook “Comedy for a Cause” Fundraiser July 23rd

Once again we’re packing the Comedy Nest to support Les Amis de Meadowbrook in our goal to create a park for southwest Montreal. Join us for an evening of fun and exercise for your stomach muscles at the Comedy Nest Just For Laughs: As Seen on TV! lineup on July 23rd. Approximately eight top comedians will be warming up at the downtown club before their gala sets. Be there to help them and help Meadowbrook! The money raised will help fund our current projects: a multi-platform map highlighting endangered green spaces across Montreal, and a showcase of the Université de Montréal landscape architecture students’ visions for Meadowbrook Park.

For tickets, contact Barbara Tekker at btekker@sympatico.ca. Tickets are $35.

The Comedy Nest is located on the third floor of the AMC/Pepsi Forum at 2313 Ste. Catherine at Atwater.

Planning for Côte St. Luc’s future

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Planning for Côte St. Luc’s future
Dida Berku
The Free Press, October 25, 2011

Earlier this month, on behalf of the City of Côte St. Luc, I presented a brief to the commission hearings the Metropolitan Land Use and Development Plan (or PMAD in French). This is a 20-year plan for the 82 cities of the Montreal metropolitan area

Once this plan is adopted later this year, it will guide development towards a sustainable future through higher density housing on and off the island, improved mass transit and the protection of green and natural spaces. 

As this regional plan could influence CSL and other west-end communities towards the year 2031, my recommendations addressed all three development challenges as they affect our sector. In the category of transportation, CSL’s position is that the priorities for major road works should absolutely include building the Cavendish-Royalmount- Cavendish road extension both for cars and rapid transit. I also recommended improving rapid bus transit to the Metro (either through protected rapid transit lanes or direct express access through the rail yards to the Metro). Thirdly, I asked that the AMT add a train stop for train service along the Blainville-St. Jérome line, which ends downtown, at the Côte St. Luc Shopping Centre. 

In the field of the environment, I highlighted that many cities of the region, including CSL, have adopted the resolution in support of the Montreal Archipelago Ecological Park. As well, CSL supports the “common vision for the green and blue belt of Greater Montreal.” And of course I emphasized that our city is not in favour of the development of the Meadowbrook golf course and other natural spaces, which serve as natural buffer zones and provide valuable green space to existing communities. 

However just being in favour of greenspace preservation is not enough. Cities have to have the powers and political will to implement measures to protect green natural spaces. 

This leads me to the third recommendation in the area of land use. It is generally recognized that there are many natural areas on and off the island that are just non-buildable due to their proximity to risks and nuisances, such as flood zones and railway yards. So far, cities do not have all the powers they need to set safe set-backs to prevent residential housing in these areas, many of which have been historically zoned for development.

“As such I recommended that all cities of the Montreal metropolitan area be given the power to adopt guidelines for safe setback distances that limit residential developments adjacent to risk zones and railway rights-of-way. These recommendations are modeled on guidelines from Ontario, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and the Railway Association of Canada and reflect the official positions of the railway companies themselves. I hope the PMAD commissioners will take these recommendations into account. 

To follow the PMAD hearings and proposals, visit www.pmad.ca. If you want to submit your comments regarding CSL recommendations, please write to me at dberku@cotesaintluc.org

Dida Berku is the councilllor responsible for finance, the Cavendish extension, Meadowbrook golf course, ethics and CLD (local economic development).