Last November to general surprise, a silo designed to store wood pellets sprang up overnight in l’Anse au Foulon, on the land surrounding Quebec City’s port. Measuring 45 meters, or about 12 stories high, this silo was followed by a second one several months later. It was not long before people reacted and the administration was seriously criticized, just as much by the population as the political class. They were criticized for their manner of going about it, especially regarding transparency and the absence of public consultation about the project and its location. It’s not the first time that the Port Authority of Quebec, a federal agency, has stated that it does not owe explanations to anyone.
While citizens must apply for a permit to change their homes’ windows, and residents are consulted about the smallest urban development in their neighborhood, is it normal for the Port to be able to build such structures on its land without authorization nor public debate? Beyond the question of aesthetics or the location of the silos, what is truly shocking is the double standard between citizens’ demands and what the Port of Quebec wants. With all of its actions, the Port has an effect on the capital’s landscape and given this fact it should set an example when it intervenes with the landscape.
A Controversial Project
The secrecy surrounding the construction of the silos is revealing. The developer, Arrimage Québec, and the Port of Quebec knew perfectly well that there would be enormous opposition if they presented their project to the public before its completion. It was simultaneously easier, and somewhat contemptuous, to present the population with the finished structures. The two domes were even dubbed silos of shame or silos of disagreement by objectors who were disappointed by the Port’s attitude.
Let it be clear, I am not against activities around the Port or its development. Transshipments carried out in the port constitute an important economic activity for the region. We must therefore accept, if we wish to preserve this economic activity, that these activities will take up a good part of the Saint Lawrence River’s banks – areas many would prefer to see transformed into promenades, beaches, or parks. I am also aware that the port’s installations create noise, dust, visual pollution, and heavy machinery traffic. It’s the price we pay to maintain this industry, which is part of the city’s history. But it is necessary to do things in a way that reduces the consequences as much as possible. Outbreaks of harmful dust over Limoilou should be things of the past, railway transport should be favored rather than using trucks, and new structures such as the silos should be positioned in locations where they will have the smallest visual effect.
We will never really know if a study on their impact was done on the silos due to their localization on behalf of the Port Authority, but I doubt it. It is true that they are located in an area already occupied by industrial port-related activities where there are few residences, but they are also located close to the route of the Samuel-de Champlain Promenade. They are also very visible from Champlain Boulevard, the river, and the southern bank.
What also made me react the day after the silos appeared in the port’s landscape was the hasty manner in which various figures from Quebec, the mayor first of all, wanted to remedy the Port’s blunder through citing several mitigating measures. The second dome was not even erected before they were thinking about painting them to make “works of art” out of them or to camouflage them into the landscape. Isn’t such damage control proof that they are not in the right place, or that they are too large for their current home? A true study on their long-term effects would have undoubtedly been able to identify these shortcomings from the beginning and would have included mitigating measures as part of their design.
In front of these criticisms surrounding the silos, the Port Authority has not delayed in establishing a committee presided by John R. Porter, President of the Administrative Council of the Foundation of the National Museum of Fine Arts of Quebec. The committee’s mandate is to choose the best project to embellish the two domes measuring forty-five meters high and forty-eight meters in diameter. Several options are under consideration: a light installment, mural, multimedia projections, landscape development, and more. The question remaining is: “is it preferable to call attention to the silos through making them more visible and beautifying them with murals and designs or to plant trees along the boulevard and bike path to make passers-by forget them?”
Opinions are divided regarding that. I would say that I am more partial to those who argue against ornamentation of the silos in order to back the creation of vegetation at their base to act as a screen. This converges with the ideas of the artist Florent Cousineau who recommends that the silos remain white. According to the artist, any aesthetic embellishment would risk adulterating the brilliant white of the silos. However, nothing is assuring us that the domes will remain immaculately white as time passes. Moreover, industrial facilities, as well as transports, would soon need to alter the pure forms that currently characterize them.
Let us recall that beginning in autumn these giant domes will be filled with wood chips delivered by train 3 times a week from the north of Ontario. Each week a ship will cross the Atlantic to deliver this combustible destined to be burnt in the United Kingdom's thermal power plants. It seems that this industry is growing quickly. Subsequently, nothing rules out similar silos appearing in the same area in the coming years.
What measures can be taken to reduce or lessen the effects of visual pollution?
Original article, originally published in French, can be found here.
Credits: Images and data linked to sources.