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ACRE turns controversy into nontroversy

April 11th,2024 | Opinion

The municipality of Chelsea should take a page out of Action Chelsea for Respect of the Environment’s (ACRE) book when working through controversial issues in the community. 

When 85 mountain bikers showed up to a meeting March 27 to learn that the environmental organization was banning the sport on its trails around the Larrimac area, things could have gone off the rails pretty quickly. 

But ACRE didn’t let that happen. Through careful planning and a transparent approach, the organization showed up to the meeting with not only a problem, but possible solutions to that problem. 

The problem is that ACRE’s insurance company will not cover mountain biking on its trails throughout the municipality. The solution is that ACRE needs help – with everything from fundraising enough money, up to $20,000 per year for insurance, to trail upkeep, which will have to be in line with Vélo Québec standards. 

And that’s what it did. The first thing ACRE members admitted at the meeting was that they are not trail builders; they don’t have the expertise to maintain mountain bike trails to the technical standards of Vélo Québec. They don’t have the time or resources to continue to meet with insurance companies or mountain bike tour companies for guidance. ACRE is a land-trust organization that spends its time and money acquiring land across the Hills to protect as conservation lands, and this trail business is taking them away from their real work. 

And what was refreshing from this meeting, compared with several recent meetings at Chelsea council, was that everything was on the table. Mountain bikers in attendance knew the problem, they knew what was on the agenda and they were given time to ask their questions thoughtfully and respectfully. There was no “behind closed doors” information that members weren’t allowed to talk about. ACRE included in its presentation quotes from insurance companies, a list of what is required for an insurance company to cover the trails and a timeline of what ACRE members have been doing since it learned mountain biking was not covered on its trails (a year of meetings with insurance companies, bike clubs and land trusts).

Anyone who was in attendance at the last Chelsea council meeting would agree that this is not happening in the same way. Last week’s council meeting got heated: Mayor Pierre Guénard stormed out at one point, and a resident was prevented from asking her questions. Several Farm Point residents were confused over whether or not the dock bylaw was going to be on the agenda, and when many of them showed up to speak about it, were told it was not being discussed. 

If we just look back at the way the municipality handled the situation with the Chelsea Foundation in regard to the new French school, it’s clear that there was a better way to approach this situation. 

ACRE clearly has nothing to hide, and if the municipality wants the public to consider them in the same light, transparency is the key. 

Put everything on the table; admit where you’re in over your head; and ask for help. 

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