Democracy in its true sense

Passy 22 March 2017: Citizen's Air Council

For the last 3 months, under the initiative of ARSMB, the Citizen Air Council has been underway, with groups of local people gathering the opinions of the Arve Valley’s residents and analysing their ideas for the improvement of air quality. The proposals made by the working groups on 22 March in Passy, in front of a large audience was very interesting. For once, local people were able to speak freely and calmly in front of elected officials and policy makers, who listened without interruption. A successful outcome for the ARSMB and for democracy. > View all Christophe Boillon's pictures

The Prefect addresses the people     

The stage was then given to the Prefect of Haute-Savoie who made announcements:

> The Arve Valley's Health Impact Study, carried out by the Regional Health Agency (ARS) will be presented at the beginning of the summer.
> The analysis of the Arve Valley's Atmospheric Protection Plan (PPA) is in progress and will be presented at the beginning of the summer. Additional subjects will be examined such as health and citizen mobilisation.
> The writing of the second PPA plan will then begin and the Prefect announced that the plan would be put into action during the second half of 2018...only. We will therefore have a period of one and a half year without a PPA, as the first plan expired in February 2017.
> Among the proposals made by citizens, the Prefect took up the idea of installing filters in wood-fired heating systems and saw mills as well as eco-driving training. He announced that a plan of action to reduce emissions from the SGL Carbon and the waste incinerator in Passy would be requested from these factories at the beginning of April.
> Finally the Prefect is ready to study the placement of air quality monitoring devices in orderto establish if any areas are lacking.      

Questions to elected officials

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During a large round table, the elected representatives of the region (Mayors, Parliamentarians, representatives of the department and region) replied to questions prepared by the Citizen Council. It is worth noting that the Mont-Blanc Community of Communes and its President Georges Morand, did not wish to take part to the round table, but that several mayors and municipal councillors were present in the room.

MP Sophie Dion took up the idea of carrying out an MOT for heating systems and suggested higher tax relief for families who carry out renovation of their heating systems and higher subsidies for low-income households. She deplored the State’s abolishment of the Paris to St Gervais night train and asked, in tune with local elected officials and environmental organisations, for the ban of Euro 4 heavy goods vehicles through Mont-Blanc tunnel during pollution peaks. She asked also that the HGV control point should be moved from Passy to Nangy during pollution peaks and called for a better use of the railway for goods transport.     

As Vice president of the region and President of ATMO Auvergne Rhone Alpes, Éric Fournier confirmed that if there were doubts and questions raised about the monitoring of air quality, the demands should be made and they would be examined. In the future, micro-monitors will be available for local people, to measure the actual pollution levels to which they are exposed during the day. It will be proposed for us to carry them. Eric Fournier heard the demands in favour of the monitoring all types of pollutants and not just particles, on which all the attention seems to be fixed.     

The Sub-Prefect, who replaced the Prefect at the round table, admitted that a disproportionate emphasis had been put on heating systems and that citizens were feeling stigmatised. He expressed his readiness to open the “Fonds Air Bois” grant to less polluting heating systems in the second PPA plan.

On the whole a consensus was reached around the table for the review the Fonds Air Bois grant, making its allocation more flexible and expanding the system to all low-polluting heating systems as well as a better evaluation of its effectiveness. Biogas was discussed too. This is a gas that can be created from waste disposal and used in the network or to power vehicles, as is the case in la Roche-sur-Foron. Eric Fournier was in favour of it and the Departmental Council has already set aside funds for this. Concerning the regional plan of waste management, under review at the moment, Éric Fournier has indicated that the closure of certain facilities in the greater region would be examined. He confirmed that the aim of the plan was to reduce waste production and to achieve a better treatment of waste.     

It should be noted that few commitments were made concerning public transport, a subject barely touched upon by those present. The necessary revision of the use of coaches to efficiently serve train stations, ahead of the more frequent running of TER trains Leman Express between Saint Gervais and Geneva was not discussed. Let’s hope that the strong request from local people for public transport was heard nonetheless.    

READING BETWEEN THE LINES     

THE TIME WHEN    
MP Sophie Dion said she was very committed to keeping local public services in our communities, to reduce travel needs, whilst she is supporting a presidential candidate who is proposing to slash 500 000 civil servant jobs...     

THE TIME WHEN    
The Prefect’s lack of courage was bitterly felt, when he left his chair empty for a long time during the round table and then sent the Sub-Prefect of Bonneville in his place.     

THE TIME WHEN    
The Doctor Champly attempted to invite himself at the table of elected officials in order to speak. The MP electoral campaign is definitely underway... and the doctor is a candidate.     

THE TIME WHEN    
The Vice President of the region, Eric Fournier, was embarrassed by the outrage of local people for the 1.5 million Euro subsidy, proposed without condition to a large private company, to help finance filterring systems. It was the President of the Region himself, Laurent Wauquiez, who telephoned the German head of SGL Carbon to tell him that he was the only politician able to help the factory financially.
A meeting was planned with MPs and local officials the next day to continue to negotiate a State subsidy in exchange for guarantees on the efficiency of the filtration systems planned. The intervention of the President of the Region, on the eve of this meeting, was without a shadow of a doubt an attempt to steal the show from other politicians and be seen as the saviour of the Arve Valley.     

THE TIME WHEN    
The Mayor of Servoz, Nicolas Evrard, reminded electric vehicles enthusiasts that SGL Carbon produced components for nuclear energy production and for vehicle batteries, in a process generating considerable emissions in the Mont-Blanc area, particularly of sulphur... clean cars don’t exist yet.    

IN CONCLUSION     

Holding such an ambitious event in record time was perilous and required considerable work. The result was a resounding success. The presentations were made in front of a large crowd (500 to 600 people) and elected officials and decision makers who listened to citizen proposals and made commitments in the round table. The media spin-off will be important, including the France 3 Alpes live news held at the event in Passy on the evening of 22 March. It is now necessary to sustain the commitment of citizens, in order to push decision makers to really act to improve the quality of our air... it’s in the long run that will be able to judge the results of this event.