Skip to comments.You don't want a highway right in your backyard?
Posted on 04/05/2008 6:31:23 PM PDT by Tolerance Sucks Rocks
In 2006, former premier Lucien Bouchard and several business leaders blamed the not-in-my-backyard syndrome - NIMBY - for much of the Montreal metropolitan area's "immobilisme." The criticism followed the cancellation of two projects that had stirred public protests - a casino near Pointe St. Charles and the Suroît power plant.
Despite the scolding, citizens remain unrepentant and as pesky as ever. Protests against noisy aircraft over the West Island, for example, are giving headaches to airport officials trying to accommodate increasing numbers of flights. Protests on the North Shore are also causing problems for the expansion of a smelly regional dump. And you can be sure that the plan to build a giant incinerator somewhere in the region will spark outrage as soon as politicians announce a site.
The citizens of rural Quebec also decline to roll over. Protests over the Rabaska liquified natural gas port, hydro-electric lines, wind turbines and the Ultramar pipeline between Lévis and Montreal are giving politicians and investors fits.
Short of crushing such impertinence with authoritarian steps, is there a way to reduce outbreaks of NIMBY? Is there, that is, a way for controversial new projects to go ahead while at the same time respecting the public will? Indeed, is there a way to do so with the actual support - gasp - of the affected community? It might sound impossible. But a Université de Montréal economist, Marcel Boyer, is proposing a way.
Boyer takes issue with the current mode of presenting unpopular schemes: Governments or corporations will typically make an announcement that the broader public interest demands that such-and-such a project be built in a certain place. A disruptive project thus suddenly falls on the head of a community.
Boyer is that rarest of Montreal economists. He regularly makes jargon-free observations on a broad range of topics relevant to the city (past examples include the looming labour shortage, funding of new infrastructure and city hall's high debt). Even if you might not always agree with his views, you'd have to admit they're constructive. Now, in a paper published by the Montreal Economic Institute, of which he is vice-president, he pitches a way to head NIMBY off at the pass.
That way is for project planners to choose not one potential site but, if they can, several sites - at least four or five. The community in which each site was found would then be offered compensation if it agreed to the project. (See www.iedm.org.) Let's say, for example, that the Communauté métropolitaine de Montréal, the regional body that oversees disposal of garbage, needs a new dump. The CMM could find suitable locations in six municipalities. It would say to each: "If you accept the dump, we'll pay for a new arena." If no municipality accepted, the CMM might say, "All right, in addition to an arena, we'll throw in a library." If there were still no takers, it would say, "We'll also pay for snow plowing for 10 years." Eventually, one municipality would agree.
Boyer presents variations on the compensation format, but this version - the so-called Dutch reverse auction - is the simplest. As he puts it, "Airline companies use this process when too many tickets have been sold aboard a certain flight so as to persuade passengers to give up their seat." To be sure, the tactic would not work for all contentious projects. It would be inapplicable to the Griffintown redevelopment proposal and Notre Dame St.'s enlargement, for example, because those projects are necessarily located in one place. No choice of sites presents itself.
Nor could the technique apply to the extension of Highway 30 - the subject of intense debate in and around Candiac - because two rival routes are under consideration. That's not enough. Each route has its foes, Boyer says, and they could collude to see that the prize reached absurd levels before one would say yes. That game would be harder with four or more parties.
Boyer is not the originator of this concept. It has been lying about in academic journals for decades. Yet the economist says that so far as he is aware, no jurisdiction anywhere has ever tried it.
Montreal and Quebec ought not to ignore the concept. Anything that would reduce our substantial amounts of confrontation, deadlock and immobilisme is worth trying.
Instead of offering an “arena” or a “library,” how about straight ol’ money?
I am not sure how you can come up with five or six locations to expand an airport. I’m also inclined to think that people who live near an airport have to assume expansion.
Many things that are unpopular are like that
Power plants require a large water source, power lines must go from the power source to the large users, oil refineries must be on a port and have a rail head.
Coming up with three options could be a stretch.
Not that difficult as most major cities have at least one or two small airports that could be expanded; in addition to Pearson International Toronto has four of them.