A personal view of Knowlton, Quebec, the Eastern Townships most beautiful village.

Paul Martin Trades Trees For Tees
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Paul Martin steps all over the landscape with his big rich boots! FORE !Paul Martin, one of Brome Lakes more well-known residents, who used to be the Prime Minister of the Dominion of Canada and Minister of Finance, or "Head Taxman" has suddenly been dubbed the "Axe Man" for being responsible for the downing of trees on his property without authorization to make room for, of all things, a private golf course. Martin & his contractors who were building the course without consent on his Brome Lake property were reprimanded in the media and also fined by authorities for illegally cutting down trees along a brook on what is zoned as purely agricultural land. The fact that the trees were cut down to build a pitch and putt didn't put Martin on the Christmas Card list of anyone from the Green Party, that's for sure!

The small fine was because Martin's contractors disobeyed environmental procedure and cut down trees to make way for his private golf course but it appears that the construction on the property is actually being undertaken without even having the proper authorization from the local environmental authorities, know as the CPTAQ “Commission de protection du territoire agricole du Québec” . Even when this commission responsible for evaluating Martins golf-course project came out against the project last September it seems that initial refusal didn’t stop Mr. Martin from “getting jiggy with it”! Word in the press is that Martin ignored the timelines for disputing the commissions’ rulings and told his contractors to be like Nike and “Just do it!”

The actual fine levied by the Town of Brome Lake, a paltry two thousand dollars, was towards Huxham Golf Design Inc who were doing the landscaping for Mr. Martins private six-hole golf course. The trees were along a brook and cannot be cut down without proper authorization. Part of the penalty imposed on the contractor responsible for the destruction of the river bank is that they will be required to plant bushes and other greenery along the brook where the trees were destroyed.

Sure…once the trees are down and you’ve got your private golf course what can anyone do? Drop another fine? Ok..so Martin will likely pay any fines without batting an eye and shrug it off with a smile and move on with piloting a golf cart across the smooth expanse of his own private Idaho. The CPTAQ was worried that by granting permission to Martin for a golf course on land that is zoned as agricultural it would set a precedent for neighbors who may feel like Martin that having a pitch and putt beats the hell out of owning a piece of some riparian zone any day! I guess Martin didn't feel that such concerns should concern him and preferred to have work on his little playground go ahead with the "ask for a pardon instead of permission" philospohy which works well for many people especially those who have money or friends in high places!

If Martin can strong arm his way right past the rules and regulations that normal folks have to obey then doesn't it actually set the precedent for anyone else to start building a private little Never-Never Land in Lac Brome and then tell the local officials to stuff it if they don't like it? How I wish that these days we'd see a bit more of Jay Ingram and a bit less of Donald Trump?

Paul Martin took advantage of his time close to Bono to appear like he really cared. I guess it was where the streets had no name?It seems like only yesterday when then Prime Minister Paul Martin was posing with green rock star Bono saying that he planned to press the issue of global warming at the G-8 Summit, including speaking "forcefully" to U.S. President George W. Bush, who hasn't signed on to the Kyoto accord. That was two-short years ago when the summit of the leaders of the Group of Eight industrialized nations took place at the plush Gleneagles golf resort in Scotland. Martin spoke gravely about the environment saying the Earth is getting warmer and that world leaders must recognize man is a key contributing factor. "Obviously, accepting the validity of the science is the first step toward dealing with the issue," said Martin. Now…it looks like it’s another case of saying what people want to hear as I guess Paul Martin has obviously gathered the scientific proof that chopping down trees to make room for more golf courses will help. Can someone please tell Al Gore!

The timing of the announcement of Paul Martins flagrant disregard for environmental norms coincided with the release of the Brome Lake Action plan which stressed the importance of protecting our natural environment. Some residents expressed anger at yet another example the brash disregard for established environmental guidelines by property owners like Paul Martin; felt it underscored how some wealthy people bullied their way over laws if it suited their own desires and whims.

When the Town of Brome Lake unveiled the much anticipated Action Plan to deal with the worsening state of Brome Lake the firm who created the plan, Teknika-HBA, stressed the importance of everyone of us doing our part to help solve the problem. This includes allowing shorelines to be more naturally constructed and to maintain filtering marshes and improve practices of maintaining forested zones to minimize the impact of urbanization and to help control erosion.

If people feel that their wealth and power positions set them above the laws that are designed to protect the environment then it makes the whole process of spending money to come up with an Action Plan look like nothing more than a political puppet-show designed to appease the poor little tax-payers who desperately want to believe that the people in charge are listening to their concerns about the environment. The ex-prime minister’s actions are typical of an attitude that is prevalent among many people which is much like an ostrich burying his head in the sand.

But ole Paul isn’t the only one; there are a number of ostentatious homes and developments around Brome Lake where shorelines have been devastated into some sort of perverse expanse of urban kitsch the likes of which would make Edward Scissor Hands cringe. Last week in the Tempo, Lac Brome's community newspaper, there was a story how one resident had several trees legally cut down because it was spoiling the view. Apparently the trees were in "bad shape" and so the inspector gave the go-ahead to trim out the trees but some folks objected to the ease at which the living forest can be knocked down at the whims of property owners.

But let’s be fair…we’ve all probably seen some residents in Lac Brome, who could hardly be accused of living a life of opulence, who have contributed in some questionable ways to the environmental problem… so let’s not just try and shoot golf balls at easy targets like the Mayor or the ex-PM.

The Town of Brome Lake discussed how thye needed to stop erosion and talked tough about new practices for building amnd maintaining the runoff coridoors...but...Remember last summer Renaissance Lac Brome invited Robert Lapalme to discuss protecting the watershed and one concept he discussed was maintaining highly vegetated shorelines and drainage ditches. He explained how a drainage ditch that was lined with clay or rocks was basically a fast moving sluice gate that acted like a raceway for water and sediments to fill rivers and lakes polluting them with phosphorous and other elements that can lead to blue green algae. Later the Town talked about their implementation of stricter measures to ensure that such practices would be put into place. But is presenting an aggressive attitude towards positive environmental changes merely a PR stunt? On one hand the Town was saying how they were dedicated to reducing the pollution flowing into Brome Lake but on the other they were literally ripping out the filtering plants out of ditches only meters from the Coldbrook right in Knowlton!

Apparently one Knowlton resident who rides a lawn tractor several times every week during summer in his compulsion to insure his lawn never protrudes more than 1/8th of an inch above the ground incessantly phoned city hall complaining about the cattails that were growing at the edge of his property. I guess the lovely tall plant life in the drainage ditch along his property was an eye-sore? The calls to city hall continued regularly until they sent in a large shovel to literally strip the ditch bare to the clay...and the rain the next day flowed in a torrent...carrying all manner of roadside runoff directly into the lake.

Send in the machines! The Town says it wants to help Brome Lake but still tears out essential filtering marshes? This picture shows how the Town caved in to one resident who felt the tall growth in the brook near his property should be removed!This picture shows the wide swatch of lovely filtering marsh that was ripped out by the Town to appease the boistrous land owner who felt the tall growth was keeping his household from achieving a good night sleep! The Town moved in and removed a large wide section of plant material much to the chagrin of other residents who saw their grassy sidewalk reduced to only a few inches, not to mention the sudden gaping floodway that suddenly appeared! Doesn't this picture look exactly like what the Town promised not to do?

The town sent in the machines early one morning to completely eradicates all manner of filtering plant life from this drainage passage thae fed the brook leaving nothing but bald clay. Wasn’t maintaining proper drainage techniques part of their plan to reduce pollution in the lake? Didn't the Town deliver press conferences all summer that were designed to put the fear into anyone who dared mess with the lake? So why wasn't this overly zealous resident told the reason why his ditch was filled with plants and the essential environmental reasons why it should be left intact instead of repeating something that was like an environmental version of the 1968 raid on Czechoslovakia?

An Action Plan without action is like a brassiere on a wheelbarrow; it's useless.

People need to feel that protecting the environment comes before a game of golf or buying a second car or having a pristine front lawn. The Town, the province and each and every one of us needs to have the gonads to stand up to people who are contributing to the destruction of our important natural resources. Time after time we've had experts come in and explain it to us...how many times does someone need to point to the obvious before we start to understand?

Any government, local or provincial, has a hard time imposing rules on the very group that pays their wages via taxes. Lac Brome must rake in a good sum from the wealthy land owners like Mr. Martin and the gaggle of wealthy residents who toss handfuls of golden coin into the coffers every year to help pay the bills so it will be a touchy situation if the Town suddenly starts insisting that these folks have to conform to restrictions that may, heaven forbid, restrict their view of the hill or hinder the use of "Big Bertha" on their private fairway. The CPTAQ will beat their chests and the Town will impose their little fines on such scofflaws and then both will carry on being the large bureaucratic entities that are known to initiate positive change at the speed of glacial ascension.

Is change even possible? Is this whole lake improvement plan an exercise in futility? Until people agree to put their own self interests behind the collective well-being of our watershed then it just might be all a waste of time. The Brome Lake Action Plan points out that the first step is educating people...In a way it’s like we're going back to school again and maybe people like Mr. Martin will be stuck in the remedial class with all of the other thick knuckle-draggers who just don’t get it!

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