In the Drôme, Vinci wants to ransack agricultural land

Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux (Drôme)

The vines and cereals of this family of Drôme farmers border the motorway. In 1968, the extension of the A7 divided their land into two parts. Jean-Louis Hughes was 27 years old. Since then, the noise of vehicles and the smell of exhaust gases accompany the work of the farmers.

The son, Denis, is now in charge of the operation. To cross from one side of his land to the other, he has to take a small road, which is regularly flooded, under the highway bridge.

For several years, rumors have been circulating about the construction of a motorway exit between Bollène and Montélimar, in Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux. « We didn’t believe itrecalls Solange Hugues, Denis’s mother. The two outings are only 21 kilometers apart. » In winter 2020, Vinci launched a consultation.

Jean-Louis Hugues discovered the location of the project with an aerial image published on the Vinci website during the public consultation. © Anouk Anglade / Reporterre

The motorway exit would be placed on a cultivated plot and one of the rare irrigated plots belonging to the Hugues family. Landlocked between the A7 motorway, the ramps of the new interchange and the toll, twenty hectares of their land would become unusable. The equivalent of 28 football pitches. The family would thus lose more than 50 % of the area of ​​his 35-hectare farm.

Five generations in a valley in full artificialization

The Hugues family has been cultivating vines, seeds and lavandin for five generations. For five generations, its members have observed the concreting of the Rhone Valley and undergo the artificialization of the soil. In 1948, the Donzère-Mondragon diversion channel amputated part of their land. Then came the Autobahn in 1968.

In the 1980s, the Tricastin nuclear power plant transformed the economic landscape of the region. A year ago, the extension of an activity zone deprived them of 14 hectares. From now on, the interchange project jeopardizes the sustainability of their operation.

In 1968, the extension of the A7 motorway divided the lands of the Hugues family. © Anouk Anglade / Reporterre

Their house, an old Provençal-style stone building bought by the family in the 1930s, adjoins their fields. This is where they live and store their agricultural equipment. Sitting at her kitchen table, Solange glances out the window: « If the project takes place, the farm will no longer look like anything. » No financial compensation can fix their situation. « There’s no more land around here, everything disappears »regrets Dennis.

« They act as if everything was already decided

The farming family was never contacted by Vinci. The people of Drôme discovered the location of the project through the press and with an aerial image found on the motorway giant’s website. « We don’t know anythingsighs Denis. We were never consulted, while they act as if everything was already settled. »

Denis and his parents Jean-Louis and Solange Hugues are mobilized alongside an association of opponents to the project. © Anouk Anglade / Reporterre

Since the announcement of the project, local elected officials have offered to install a carpool parking lot near the future interchange or to create a new water retention basin. Farmers wonder how much land they will have to give up.

To obtain information, they organised, with the association of opponents to the project Live, breathe, move around in Tricastin, meetings with local elected officials. They also obtained information by listing municipal bulletins and newsletters.

A consultation during 2023

If the consultation has already taken place, the investigation of public utility, it, still not. It is announced in 2023, but Vinci has not yet communicated a date. In the event that the development operation is recognized as being of public utility, then the owners of the land could be expropriated. In the meantime, nothing is settled.

However, the interchange is already being used as an argument to sell land in the neighboring industrial zone and since October, an Ibis hotel with swimming pool has been under construction near the future interchange.

On December 17 in Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux, about sixty people demonstrated at the call of the national coalition Déroute des Routes. © Anouk Anglade / Reporterre

With the support of the Drôme deputy Marie Pochon and several hundred opponents of the project, the Hugues family remains hopeful. « Faced with companies like this, we know it’s hard to fight. But we’re gonna hang on »assured, determined, Denis.

Saturday, December 17, they were about sixty to demonstrate in Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux, at the call of the national coalition the Rout of the Roads. The opportunity for the farming family to bring out the dozens of signs that remained stored in their shed: « No to waste of land », « 21 millions = 8 minutes »

Opponents estimate the potential time saving that the interchange would allow at…8 minutes. © Anouk Anglade / Reporterre

They had installed them on their farm to inform the population of the ongoing project. But twice, the farmer received formal notices from the prefecture, requiring him to remove his placards under penalty of a fine of 7,000 euros and an additional 239 euros per panel.

« Tonight we go home with them, but we’ll take them out for the next event », announces Denis, a flocked yellow vest on his back. While waiting to learn more about the future of their farms, farmers continue to mobilize, determined to continue working the land of their ancestors.

The usefulness of this motorway interchange project, the cost of which is estimated at 21 million euros and partly financed by the community, raises questions. « The time saving for motorway users is estimated at a maximum of 8 minutes »said MP Marie Pochon, opposed to the project.

One of the motivations could be the potential implementation of two new type reactors EPR2 in the town of Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux. The Tricastin power station is one of the possible sites for two of the six EPR2 which should be set up in pairs in France.

« It’s hard to see the usefulness of this outing »

With the aim of having their region chosen, local elected officials have been lobbying for almost two years. In February 2021, in order to convince EDF (the contracting authority), 33 elected officials from Drôme, Ardèche, Vaucluse and Gard (including the mayor of Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux and Marie-Pierre Mouton, president of the Drôme departmental council) delivered a letter to the President ofEDF.

In their argument, they put forward « the opening in 2025 of a new complete motorway interchange (A7) Drôme Provençale near the site ». Would the motorway project support the lobbying of elected officials ? « It’s hard to see the usefulness of this outingsays MP Marie Pochon. We obviously ask ourselves questions about what can motivate such investments. »

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