Heritage project hills rising above Bedford

By Ruby Irene Pratka – Local Journalism Initiative

Two artificial hills are rising above the town of Bedford as part of the Heritage Project, a future public park funded and directed by Graymont, which owns and operates the nearby quarry. The hills are being built with waste stone from the quarry.

“We have a lot of unused stone that we have to extract to get to the limestone, and we were running out of space to store it on our property,” explains plant director Claudia Houde. “People were worried that [this would lead to] big piles of waste, so we wanted to do something that looked nice.”

Houde also says the project, the first of its kind in the region, will prolong the life of the quarry “for the next forty years” by providing a safe and environmentally sound disposal site for the waste stone. “We’re developing the park while exploiting the quarry, which allows us to [ensure] the quarry’s long-term survival,” she says.

The project has faced several delays since it was first proposed in 2010. The approval of the town of Bedford, the provincial commission for the protection of agricultural lands and the Quebec environment ministry all had to approve the proposal. The Union des producteurs agricoles also expressed concerns about valuable agricultural land being taken up by the project. After a public consultation in 2012, a citizens’ follow-up committee was created to monitor the project, with residents, business representatives and municipal elected officials from Bedford, Bedford Township and Stanbridge Station. “It took a few years to have all the studies and authorizations required to begin construction,” says Houde. The project was officially launched in May 2018, and in September of that year, the first loads of stone were transported to the future site.

Erik Simard, co-ordinator of the Heritage Project, explains the process of building the artificial hills. “We remove the existing soil and any vegetation that’s there and we pile it up, to put it on the hill at the end.” The clay is then removed to ensure the hill is built on stable ground. Acoustic barriers made with earth are put up around the site to keep noise levels down. Inside those barriers, trucks come in and start piling up the rocks, moving outward as they go, Simard explains. The hill is then covered with the reserved earth and planted with grass seed. The first two hills of the Heritage Project have reached this stage; the first trees will be planted on them next spring.

The first two hills are 18 and 45 metres high. The third hill, 60 metres high, is expected to be completed within the next 15 years and “be transformed into a forest in the very long term” planted with local trees, says Houde. The highest hill will eclipse the smokestacks of the plant.

The final proposed project includes a nearly 20-acre park with hiking trails in crushed stone, a playground, a chalet and a 30-door housing development nearby, for which the land will be ceded to the town of Bedford. The company will apply for construction permits for the playground and chalet early in the new year. “We decided to make the park accessible to the public before completing the rest of the project,” says Houde. “People will be able to enjoy the park in 2023.”

Houde declined to provide the project’s specific budget estimate, but said Graymont was investing “several million dollars” in its construction. Simard says the company’s biggest challenge in the next few years will be keeping noise to an acceptable level and keeping the budget manageable, in light of the labour shortage and supply chain concerns.

The company is building a fund to ensure the park’s long-term survival, potentially in partnership with a local nonprofit. The French word heritage can also be translated as “legacy” or “inheritance,” and that’s what Houde and her colleagues hope the park will become for residents of Bedford and surrounding municipalities. “We want it to become a destination for people in and around Bedford, a nice place to spend an afternoon,” says Simard. “In 15-20 years, I hope that’s what it will be.”

Current Bedford mayor Claude Dubois has said a major reason he returned to municipal politics after an eight-year absence was to see the project through to the park’s opening. “It’s coming along well, and the population will benefit from it for a long time,” he told the BCN during an interview in late November. No officials from the town of Bedford were able to provide further comment at press time.

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