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The St. Charles Lake provides half the potable water used by Québec City.  When nutrients from human activity began to create plagues of toxic bacteria, the City enacted a by-law requiring owners of lakefront property to put in 10-15 metre buffer zones comprised of trees, bushes and other plants, along the river’s edge. These buffer zones will help keep nutrients and erosion out of the water. In Wallot v. Québec, shore land owners challenged the City’s authority to adopt the by-law, and argued that it amounted to disguised expropriation.

The Québec Court of Appeal has now dismissed an appeal by the property owners, and upheld the bylaw.

Under the Municipal Powers Act, local municipalities may adopt by-laws on environmental matters.  The court held that the City has the power to adopt the by-law, and had exercised its discretion in a reasonable manner.  The by-law provisions do not totally take away the plaintiffs’ enjoyment of property rights, although the forest buffer substantially affects part of their properties.  There was no evidence that the City acted in bad faith or for anything but the collective interest.

“[140] Although greatly reduced, the owner retains a certain enjoyment of the area renaturalized. This state of affairs can not be equated with actual possession of the shoreline by the municipal authority.” Some pruning is allowed in the naturalized area. Vegetation can be cut within 4 m around a building or structure. A “green window”  of cut vegetation can be maintained, up to 10 m wide, and a 1 m path may be cut to the river. The municipality has not taken possession of the naturalized strips.

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