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Ding, ding: Another round in the Montreal ring road fight

MONTREAL, Que. - It might be mildly abusive of my literary licence to refer to the squaring off between the Quebec government and the Kahnawa:ke Mohawk Indians over the A-30 ring road as the classic u...

MONTREAL, Que. – It might be mildly abusive of my literary licence to refer to the squaring off between the Quebec government and the Kahnawa:ke Mohawk Indians over the A-30 ring road as the classic unstoppable force heading for the immovable object, but the arrogance of the former and the fortitude of the latter are true marvels of political physics.

Quebec, having already invested tens of millions in studies, hearings and hard-to-move overpasses and such, has recently become keen to deal, after a fashion, with the Mohawks.

The natives have always been opposed to the southern route chosen for the 13-kilometre eastern section of the A-30 completion, preferring that it be laid down a bit to the north on the existing Highway 132.

The lands on which the eastern portion of the A-30 is being built are part of a 24,000-acre parcel of land remaining of a 45,000-acre territory called the Seigneury of Sault St. Louis.

It was granted to the Iroquios of the Sault in 1680 and is currently the subject of federal land claim negotiations.

According to Mike Delisle, Grand Chief of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawa:ke, the Council received a “frantic” phone call from the Ministry of Transports on May 8 looking for the green light to go ahead with construction on the following Monday.

It is not clear just why the Ministry bothered to make that call but, says Grand Chief Delisle, “The MTQ obviously felt it was necessary to see if we would agree or stand idly by.” In any case, Grand Chief Delisle continues, “To me the phone call was recognition of our authority over this land.”

The Council said it would give no such green light and the next day fired off a letter to Quebec Premier Jean Charest.

In it, Grand Chief Delisle reminded him that the Mohawks had never surrendered this land; scolded him for only being interested in negotiating when it suited the province’s interest (when trouble seemed imminent; and outlined some of the Council’s demands.

The upshot of this and lots of other maneuvering is that Quebec City has agreed to turn over 400 acres of expropriated land lying adjacent to the Kahnawa:ke community that Transports Quebec had squirreled away for other projects, plus 300 more yet-to-beidentified acres, according to Grand Chief Delisle.

This 700 acres would be a quid pro quo for the 700 acres of land that will disappear under the eastern portion of the A-30.

This by no means makes the Mohawks instant converts to the southern route. They are not.

The Council has only reluctantly and pragmatically agreed, possibly because ever achieving anything more than temporarily holding up construction (the unstoppable force) and perhaps igniting an Oka-style disaster would be impossible.

However, the acreage promised by Transports Quebec will enlarge the Mohawk community and, says Grand Chief Delisle, “It is part of a bigger picture. It is nice to have a piece of recognition from the province in terms of land, and it goes a long way toward our ultimate goal.”

Still, he adds, “There are other issues that remain to be acknowledged. There are other strategies at play I do not want to discuss with the media. We hold the ultimate card,” – whatever that means.

On the sunnier side, on June 19 the governments of Canada and Quebec announced that the construction conglomerate Nouvelle Autoroute 30, S. E. N. C. won the right to build the 35-kilometre western portion of the A-30. This will be a 35-year partnership agreement for the design, construction, financing, operation, maintenance and repair of this stretch of highway and bridges from Vaudreuil-Dorion to St-Catherine.

The contract will be signed this September. Construction will probably begin in the spring of 2009 and be completed by December 2012.

The western section was originally intended to be a toll highway from one end to the other, but last year the government announced that tolls will only be collected on the bridge over the St. Lawrence River, between Salaberry-de-Valleyfield and Vaudreuil-Dorion.

Local traffic between Chateauguay and Salaberry-de-Valleyfield will not pay any tolls – a break for users who do not have to hop the river.

Barring any confrontations between the government and the Mokawks, the eastern section, which is being built by Transports Quebec, is still scheduled to be completed by the end of 2010. Well, most of it: the little stretch between the A-15 and the end of the existing A-30 will not be ready for another couple of years. In June, Transports Quebec issued a call for tender for the construction for the eastern part of the A30, valued at $45-50 million.

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