ARIA Spotlight: Alex DePani

I am particularly grateful for my internship experience among the Leadership for the Ecozoic research group as I got the opportunity to accomplish different tasks that were not only useful for my own personal experience, but also helpful for various people I worked with that share similar values to mine. The first part of my internship consisted of meeting with concerned local community members of the Chateauguay River watershed. Our research group desires promoting the notion of “Territories of Life”, an alternative way of governing territories which focuses on bottom-up community decision making to foster a mutually beneficial relationship with the local environment. The ongoing process of meeting community members allowed me to get input from local mayors, journalists and activists as to what kind of academic work could be conducted in the mutual interest of the research group and the local citizens. The issue of unauthorized disposal of construction waste was a strong concern for stakeholders that I have met. I therefore proceeded to write two in-depth research papers on the issue of construction waste management in Quebec. The first paper focused on the general, systematic issue that is currently plaguing Quebec, having as a root cause inefficient monitoring and enforcement on behalf of the provincial regulatory body. The second paper focused on an ongoing court case involving a particular construction waste disposal site in the Haut St-Laurent regional county municipality. Throughout the writing process, I continuously checked in with the community members I was working with to share new relevant information, as well as to make sure that my work was continuously aligned with their needs. It was also an opportunity for me to assist community members in their own work, as highlighted by my co-authoring of local news articles that explored the issue of illegal construction waste disposal.

I was interested in an ARIA project as it allowed me to complete work that is often undervalued, yet important for the well-being of local communities. I think it is important to highlight that the individuals in these rural areas who decide to denounce the unsafe management of construction waste do so in their free time, are often unpaid and thus must balance out their personal responsibilities (taking care of their family, working their day job) with their desire to challenge the status quo and demand better protection of their land and groundwater resources. I am therefore grateful to have been capable of concentrating on such issues full-time without being burdened by additional financial obligations or duties. Hearing inspiring stories of local stakeholders who were able to get together to protect their land and livelihood, amidst all their additional responsibilities, was not only the highlight of my internship, but also a humbling learning experience for me. A particular conversation I had with the former mayor of the municipality of Franklin truly inspired me. He recounted an encounter from his time as a mayor, where he came across members of the construction industry clandestinely depositing construction waste on a private property before dawn. In their conversation, the individuals pointed out to the mayor that he was currently trying to do “a little more than his job obliged him to”, inviting him to turn a blind eye on the unauthorized operations. The mayor responded that as long as he remained in charge of the municipality, he will not content himself of doing only what his job required him to. He proceeded to do everything in his power to halt such unauthorized activity, alerting the provincial regulatory body and imposing new municipal by-laws to make illegal backfilling more difficult. One cannot aspire to instigate positive change without courage and determination.

As a student in the field economics, I would say that hearing such stories from locals, along with the research I undertook to complete both my papers, allowed me to realize how dissimilar real life is to the lecture hall; I could say that learning about those discrepancies was probably my ultimate learning objective. I aspire to one day find a job that will allow me to instigate positive change around me, perhaps as a policy maker. This internship allowed me to see the limitations of Quebec’s centralized top-down approach when regulating environmental issues. After what I have read, seen and learned, I truly believe that local communities, be it municipalities, town councils or simply concerned citizens, should have a bigger role to play in the management of their local territory. In the future, I aspire to encourage fellow scholars around me to embrace the concept of collaborative work with local communities, rather than adopting a prescriptive approach to policy making. Indeed, while citizens in rural regions may not possess the same scholarly background as many of us, they often exhibit a profound understanding of the issues that directly impact their communities, as well as an inspiring willpower to challenge the status quo.

This internship was the first time I was obliged to spend a large fraction of my working hours in front of a computer during summertime. Managing my concentration amidst the long hours staring at a screen was somewhat of a challenge. My flexible schedule however allowed me to take screen breaks whenever I needed, which helped me stay concentrated.

I would like to finish this report by providing a special thank you to both my donors, Dr. Leah Pope and Mr. Clayton Pope, who allowed me to follow through with this valuable learning experience. Without their generous contributions, I would not have been capable of undertaking this summer research project.

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