Ste. Agathe resident appeals for dike relocation

·4 min read

Since October 2022, one Ste. Agathe resident has been vigilantly working to save his land from being deemed forever idle and unproductive. On May 17, Guy St. Hilaire made a heartfelt appeal to the Ritchot’s council for help in his battle.

His request was that council petition the provincial government on his behalf to relocate the southeast corner of the community dike, moving it 160 feet outward in order to absorb a section of his land within the protected area.

With the province’s recent proposal to rebuild the ring dike to meet a one-in-200-year flood standard, St. Hilaire believes this may be the most opportune time to make his request.

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St. Hilaire, who owns more than 18 acres of land outside the dike, has been planning for decades to develop a small section of his land into 24 residential lots. So far he’s been met with roadblocks and frustration the whole way.

“Considering what we are up against for the development of our property as rural residential [located] outside of the dike, we find ourselves with no other option but to request that the dike be moved,” St. Hilaire told council, “thus providing for the future development of the inside of the flood protected system of Ste. Agathe and recapturing some very usable property.”

In October 2022, St. Hilaire first sat before the Macdonald-Ritchot Planning District, asking them to reconsider the classification of his parcel of land. The land, according to the new development plan draft, would be deemed protected under an Environmental Policy (EP) designation.

“It elaborates on what EP should be, basically [reducing it] to park space for wildlife and as a blending of nature with the community,” said St. Hillaire. “It basically states, in not so many words, that there will be no development on the southeast side of the dike on our property… The draft has removed any possibility of exceptions in its intent.”

In response to requests from St. Hilaire and others to revise the draft, the MRPD returned with a second public meeting in March 2023. For St. Hilaire, however, nothing had changed.

According to St. Hilaire, what the MRPD did was change the designation of someone else’s river lot which abutted his own.

“The MRPD and provincial authorities have approved the removal of river lot 507 [from the EP] designation,” St. Hilaire said. “We do not object to this, but I’m only mentioning it for the purpose of fairness.”

To make his case, St. Hilaire told council that the small parcel of land he’s trying to develop has stood well above flood levels even in the worst flood years.

While it lies near the riverbank, its development would not negatively affect the riverbank, as this stretch of the river is well protected by trees and has no snaking curves, which would make it more susceptible to erosion.

“Anyone that has spent the time to examine this information would agree that some part of this land is suitable for rural residential,” St. Hilaire said. “Rural residential has recently been allowed in much more flood-prone areas within the MRPD [region]. This [development plan] shuts the door… to us ever developing this land.”

Feeling that his appeals to the MRPD have fallen on deaf ears, St. Hilaire acknowledged that the relocation of the dike may be his last chance at providing the community of Ste. Agathe with some much-needed development space.

When the original ring dike was built after the flood of 1997, St. Hilaire requested that his property remain outside the dike. The hope was to create rural residential properties at the time.

Over the years, he says that his development plans have always been looked upon favourably by councils and MRPD boards.

Everything changed for him when the new development plan was drafted in 2022.

“If we have erred in the past due to our decision on the location of the dike, it was with the blessing of the RM and the province at the time,” St. Hilaire told council. “Due to the upgrade of the dike to the 200-year flood protection level, we now have the opportunity to correct past errors.”

Brenda Sawatzky, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Niverville Citizen

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