MTQ ordered to pay $2 million in damages to contractor for contamination of artesian wells in Wakefield
The Ministère des Transports du Québec (MTQ) has been ordered to pay almost $2 million to contractor Couillard Construction for wrongly accusing it of contaminating artesian wells in Wakefield during the extension work on Highway 5 that took place from 2012 to 2014. The MTQ had informed the contractor that it held it responsible for the groundwater table contamination, which it claimed was caused by the blasting carried out by Dyfotech, a Couillard Construction subcontractor.
However, the Superior Court has now ruled that the MTQ had "the obligation" to inform the contractor of the risks, as it had reports indicating risks for certain wells in 2009. The judgment said that the MTQ never thought of warning the companies concerned of the risks and had committed a fault generating liability that is exclusively attributable to it.
Despite the ruling, the residents of the sector still face a "hell" that started a decade ago due to the contaminated water. The Gauvin Immobilier building, located on Route 105 in Wakefield, receives approximately ten 18-litre bottles of water every two weeks, all supplied by the MTQ.
The company must also install a pumping system outside the building to try and flush the groundwater table. However, the system often breaks, and the company has to take the steps to bring in a plumber or an electrician each time. Ms. Gauvin's company must submit its invoices to the MTQ to obtain reimbursements.
The incident also led to the MTQ banning the use of products containing perchlorates on its worksites. At the time of the Highway 5 extension work, perchlorates were not on the authorities' radar as a risk for groundwater contamination.
The judge ruled that it was very likely that blasting was the source of the contamination, but the MTQ had "the obligation" to inform the companies concerned of the risks, which it failed to do. The MTQ's mismanagement of the file and its failure to inform the bidders of the project of the risks led to the damage that the residents of the sector still suffer from today.
The ruling will serve as a warning to public authorities to ensure that they take their obligations seriously and to inform all parties involved of any potential risks that may arise during their work.