Association pour le Respect du Site du Mont-Blanc

 A history of the ARSMB's activities

In the history of our association, powerful moments occurred and our fights were on the front page. Therefore, public opinion became more and more aware that another transport policy was necessary. For the last ten years, the problems linked to trucks became a general problem. Our fight in the Mont-Blanc area became a symbol for “sustainable transport”. This fight consists in organising popular demonstrations to tell decision makers about local problems, reacting daily about current events, giving information to the members of the association, lobbying politicians.

How did we get there?

1955 : France and Italy decided to create a road link between the two countries to bring closer two peoples who had been separated by the second world war.

1957 : The Mont-Blanc area was chosen as the highest and shortest tunnel

1959 : The tunnel works began

1965 : Opening of the tunnel made for cars and 450 000 vehicles.

1991 : More than 750 000 trucks went through the valley every year. ARSMB was founded.

15 years of actions for the respect of Mont-Blanc Site

Founded in 1991 by high mountain guides and people living along the tunnel access road (main and second homes) ARSMB has been fighting against the increase of the number of trucks in the Chamonix Valley in order to save a natural and cultural site which is unique in the world. From its foundation, actions in favour of rail transport and against a second tunnel were the main concern of the association.

ARSMB was immediately supported by the people of Chamonix. 5000 people became members in 1991. Three years later, in 1994, thanks to the demonstrations organised in November, the government cancelled the project of building a second tunnel, as planned in 1983.

14th November 1994 : Demonstrators blocked Mont-Blanc Tunnel for twelve hours. They had 15 000 signatures from supporters. The government cancelled the project of a second tunnel.

1997 : ARSMB declared its opposition to the traffic of trucks in mountain areas to favour rail transport.

4th October 1997 : 1000 cyclists demonstrated so that trucks were banned from the Chamonix Valley till the year 2000. They were supported by Nicolas Hulot

2nd May 1998 : Another peaceful demonstration: cyclists climbed up the Egratz viaduct on the tunnel access road demanding another transport policy from the tunnel and motorway operator.

22nd September 1998 : On this “no cars day”, the people of Chamonix and the Mayor, Mr M.Charlet, blocked the tunnel access road.

2nd October 1998 : First action organised in common with Brenner and Gothard groups.

24th March 1999 :  Tragedy in the tunnel. A Belgian truck carrying margarine and flour took fire. 39 people died. The tunnel was closed for an indeterminate length of time.

After the tragedy, President Chirac and Prime Minister L. Jospin promised there would be a new transport policy.

After the accident in Mont-Blanc Tunnel

June 1999 : There is no new transport policy. ARSMB sets up a petition against the return of trucks

Summer 1999 : ARSMB joined to protest movements in Maurienne Valley which was having 7000 trucks a day since the accident under the Mont-Blanc tunnel. Ecological organisations of Maurienne agree with the petition against the return of trucks and in favour of a new transport policy

2-4th March 2000 : Transport international congress at Chamonix with experts and visitors coming from all over the Alps

24th March 2000 : First anniversary of the tragedy. Ten ecological organisations wrote a manifesto supporting Mont-Blanc, Maurienne and Aspe Valleys , demanding immediate measures to decrease the number of trucks in mountain areas. A protest walk was organised in Chamonix

13th October 2000 : With Greenpeace and Mountain Wilderness, ARSMB took legal steps against the return of trucks

14th October 2000 : To protest against the lack of safety in the tunnel, the firemen gave back the medals that had been given to them by the Home Office.

January 2001 : The town of Geneva joined the fight against the return of trucks.

23rd March 2001 : Second anniversary of the tragedy. The famous Chamonix Guides Company and hundreds of people of Chamonix demonstrated in Paris against the return of trucks. They were supported by ecological organisations from all parts of France and Switzerland . They gave the petition with its 150 000 names to the ministry of transport.

25th June 2001 : Very important Swiss politicians lead by parliament Vice President came to Chamonix for a press conference. They confirmed their support to the fight against the return of trucks. Very famous people supported them : HM Saddrudin Aga Khan, the Olympic champion K.Ruby.

In the meantime, 120 national and international organisations supported the manifesto, 200 000 people supported the petition.

19th August 2001 : A vote against the return of trucks was organised in the towns of Chamonix , Les Houches and Servoz without the approval of the county council. There were as many votes as for the local council election. More than 70pc votes were against the return of trucks.

22nd September 2001 : A referendum about the return of trucks was organised at Courmayeur ( Italy ). A third of the citizens voted despite the objection of the government political parties. 90 pc votes were against the return of trucks..

6th October 2001 : ITE Day in Maurienne. 1000 people from the Alps and elected representatives from Austria , Italy , Switzerland and France gathered in Maurienne Valley to show their support to the people of Maurienne. They blocked the motorway for two hours.

24th October 2001 : A meeting concerning the return of trucks took place at the European Parliament. On that very day, a fire broke out in Gothard Tunnel…It was not extinguished when the debates about the reopening of Mont-Blanc Tunnel started.

15th February 2002 : A meeting gathering economy experts, politicians and representatives of associations of the three alpine countries took place in Courmayeur. A final document explained the opposition to the traffic rules planned for the Mont-Blanc tunnel and demanded that no decision was taken without the agreement of the areas involved.

9th March 2002 : Thousands of people and numerous associations from alpine countries demonstrated against the return of trucks as the tunnel was reopening to cars.

25th June 2002 : The huge demonstration : Between 3000 and 5000 people depending on time of day shouted loud and clear what the politicians in charge of transport thought but did not dare say.

This demonstration took place after1200 days of technical closure, 1200 days and…3 minutes after the reopening of the tunnel to trucks. It was 12:03am, a squadron of police in riot gear threw tear gas grenades to the demonstrators. What an example of democracy ! No time could be wasted to fill up the till of the tunnel company. As from then, many actions took place against trucks climbing up the 12 km access road. They can stop one person but they cannot stop an angry people and even less reason !

5th October 2002 : ITE Day, demonstration at Courmayeur : ITE : Initiative Transport Europe is an association the ARSMB belongs to. Each autumn, they organise a demonstration in the Alps which gathers people in favour of a new transport policy in mountain areas. The year before, it had taken place in Maurienne and that year, on the Italian side of the tunnel, at Courmayeur. Associations from all over Europe were there.

17th January 2003 : Demonstration at Somport (Pyrenees) : A delegation of Mont-Blanc associations went to Aspe Valley for the opening of Somport Tunnel. Somport is the symbol of the fifth against trucks in fragile areas.

ARSMB at Strasbourg . : On Wednesday,12th February 2003, a delegation of 5 members of ARSMB went to the European Parliament in Strasbourg . They staged a lobbying protest on the day of the vote over the eco point system in Austria . This gave the associations the opportunity to meet and declare their wish to work together.

3rd January 2003 : demonstration at Courmayeur , Italy .

3rd March 2003 : Huge demonstration “no to the end of alternate traffic”. Over a thousand demonstrators came over to show their determination against an absurd transport policy. Four years after the tragedy, we were back to square one.

This placard was a very good summary of the situation:

Trucks everywhere
Dead people, they don’t care
Cash, they want to make

19th May 2003 : A thousand people lead by José Bové cycled up the Egratz viaduct on the tunnel access road as G8 was held in Evian. They wanted the world leaders to be interested in environmental problems.

Mont-Blanc associations met Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin : On 12 August 2003 Mont-Blanc associations met Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin for an hour and 30 minutes. The associations told him people could not put up with the increasing traffic of trucks in France , measures had to be quickly taken to limit pollution : no trucks at night in mountain areas if pollution levels were high, haulage companies had to be taxed and trucks checked regularly before going into tunnels. Mr Raffarin admitted a tax was necessary to decrease traffic. He confirmed a new law was planned to tax international haulage companies and that amendments would help small haulers. He added the associations should check the official pollution figures.

4th October 2003 : ITE day of action : ARSMB activists roped down a railway bridge to unfold a gigantic banner “more trains, less trucks”. The association leaders were heard by the police several times.

17th December 2003 : Demonstration : No to trucks in mountain valleys, yes to transferring goods onto trains ! Prior to the ministers meeting about national and regional development, ARSMB members and supporters gathered at “ Vigilance Round - About” to remind Mr Raffarin what he had said in August as regards to taxation and Lyons – Torino railway line. In spite of cold weather, a hundred activists and… Santa came. Santa had brought nice presents for our decision makers. We wanted to stop the traffic so we put our caravan across the tunnel access road. The police forces intervened quickly in 'a pretty rude maner' so that we moved off the road. As we were 'talking' the caravan overturned on the road.

The incident did not help to bring the traffic back to normal and, as usual, in order to maintain the free movement of goods and the filling of the tunnel company’s till, a squadron of police in riot gear appeared from darkness. As we do not like being beaten up, and because there were more policemen than activists, we decided to leave them put “Roseline” back on its four wheels. The flow of trucks could go on on. Mr Berthier, in charge of the security branch of the police force, had come to take photos of the event. The “welcome” he got from the demonstrators was up to his disregard for safety and protection of the environment in the valley. Once more, they replied to our demands by using repression and brutality. The alternatives we had explained to the Chairman of the County Council and the Prime Minister were not even examined.

Behind all these fine words about “sustainable development” reality hides. It is a long line of trucks on the French roads which is protected by Mr Sarkosy’s first-rate policemen. He will not be surprised if other actions take place in the Alps, the Pyrenees, the Jura and in plains even. The citizens’ exasperation increases like the traffic of trucks and the pollution they create.

The car race “24 hours on ice” was cancelled in 2004

12th January 2004 : Pro Mont-Blanc and ARSMB signed and sent a letter to the Mayor of Chamonix protesting against the race. On 22 January 2004, it was definitely cancelled.

19th June 2004 : “Solstice”. Famous cycling demo up to the tunnel access road, with associations stalls, debates and a concert interrupted by the rain.

2th October 2004 : ITE Day: actions all over Europe . Initiative Transport Europe gathering different associations all over Europe , organised a day of actions. In France , many areas concerned by the traffic of trucks ( Pyrenees, Vosges , Maurienne) took part. In the Mont-Blanc area, associations decided to make wood fires along the valley as symbols of resistance. On the Saturday morning stalls were held on the market to inform people on the cost of road transport : 400 € ( 479 us dollars) per European citizen per year. The traffic of trucks is paid by tax payers. We all pay for the traffic of trucks, the damages done on our health and our environment. Haulage companies must pay for that as they already do in Switzerland : polluter – payer. It would quickly lead to the decrease of the number of empty trucks on the roads, the increase of local products, a healthier local economy, a better quality of air and health, the decrease of the budget deficit.

6th November 2004 : the last Wednesday of Vigilance at the Vigie round-about where activists used to gather every Wednesday since the reopening of the tunnel in June 2002. This symbol of the resistance against all-road transport was destroyed by road works in order to build a double carriage way to the tunnel. The activist had been there for exactly 123 weeks. ARSMB did not give up and organised unexpected actions.

4 October 2004 : Mont-Blanc associations met the Minister of environment on Monday. ARSMB was invited to meet Mr Serge Lepeltier, Minister of environment and sustainable development, as well as Mr Saddier, MP, and Mr Carenco, Chairman of the County Council. Together with associations of Servoz, Passy and Les Houches we suggested solutions to the pollution caused by trucks. As usual, we did not notice much will to change the policy of transport : road transport remains a priority. When we mentioned the problems of pollution they replied engines had been improved. According to them, only 500 trucks would go through the Mont-Blanc tunnel. We gave them the correct number of daily traffic : an average of 1000 trucks and 1600 trucks a day in peak periods. When we talked about a tax to heavy goods vehicles, our well prepared file seemed to bother them instead of convincing them. We also suggested that associations take part in working groups on the matter, but it was not accepted.

9th November 2004 : anger increases in the Vosges and Alsace areas. The increase of traffic reached unbearable levels in these valleys of North-East France . Existing restrictions were ignored, trucks were not checked as they should have been and the prospect of more trucks invading the area to avoid the new tax imposed in Germany prompted local people to organise several demonstrations at Saint-Amarin round-about. ARSMB activists supported the “rebels” of La Thur Valley.

17th November 2004 : at 4:00PM the activists started cleaning up the exhaust pipes of the trucks parked at Passy-Le Fayet parking area where the trucks get their authorisation sticker to go through the tunnel. They wanted us to believe that new engines did not bring any pollution : far from it ! The traffic of heavy goods vehicles increases, so does pollution !

15th December 2004 : ARSMB does not believe in Father Christmas anymore ! Despite promises to change the transport policy after the tragedy, 700 000 heavy goods vehicles have already gone through the tunnel since the reopening in June 2002 and the government has never taken into account the amount of traffic and the dangers for the local people. Therefore, the activists received Santa who was bringing them nice presents from the Ministry of Transport : pollution, noise, accidents, greenhouse gases…Demonstrators also fixed a banner across the road under which cars could drive , but too low to allow trucks through. Unfortunately, the police force did not have a very good sense of humour…and Father Christmas got very angry when he heard what a policeman was saying…

31st January 2005 : Mont-Blanc tunnel court case: the activists’ action on Monday. The activists of Mont-Blanc associations went to Bonneville where the court case of the tragedy had opened. We were to put a black sheet over one of the symbols of the tunnel operator who filled up our valleys with trucks and still does, without any respect for our environment, quality of life and safety.

26th January 2005 : Press conference : Mont-Blanc associations held a press conference and invited journalists to follow them to the new Vigie round about on the tunnel access road. In a few minutes, they installed a cable across the road and 8 of them locked themselves to this cable ( they threw the keys away in the snow), blocking all traffic to the tunnel for 50 minutes. The action was surrounded by a banner saying : obstacle to pollution. It was very cold : minus 18 degrees Celsius, but the police were very kind …( the fact that 3 television channels were there had something to do with it…).

24th March 2005 : On the day of the anniversary of the tragedy, ARSMB and a group of citizens asked all the inhabitants to stop what they were doing at 10:56 AM. Everybody remained silent for 4 minutes in memory of the 39 victims and also to show they wanted to be heard.

30th April 2005 : Demonstration : the trial is over but the all road transport policy is not. The trial ended on 29th April. But the traffic of heavy good vehicles increased: + 25 per cent since the beginning of January. Pollution increased as well. Therefore, ARSMB organised a demonstration at the Vigie round about. Before having a picnic in the sun, the activists installed a banner. Two television teams were there as well as supporters from Les Vosges and Alsace associations. Reagir and LEIA also sent messages. The 8 o’clock news on the 1st and 3rd channel mentioned our action and explained our demands. We received a lot of e mails after that showing that a lot of French citizens supported us.

28th May 2005 : “Solstice” is getting more and more important. People cycle up the tunnel access road, then they can enjoy plays organised for the school children, a film festival, debates…

4th June 2005 : fire under the Frejus tunnel. A truck carrying tyres took fire in the Frejus tunnel. Two truck drivers died. There were important damages to the tunnel itself. As a consequence, all the traffic went through the Mont-Blanc tunnel : 4000 trucks a day.

8th June 2005 : , demonstration at La Vigie round about. 1000 demonstrators came to show their anger at the round about leading to the tunnel access road. Road transport brings danger and pollution with the agreement of the government. We do not fight to save a valley and mountains, we fight to save an economical and environmental balance.

ARSMB activists met the Chairman of the county council and the Minister of Transport. None of them confirmed any change in the transport policy. Our only hope is the railway line Lyons-Torino, which means no hope of improvement before 2025 ?

27th July 2005 : at Servoz, a huge demonstration took place. A lot of associations and politicians took part such as Mr Jean-Jack Queyranne, Chairman of the Regional Council. Elected representatives of Maurienne came over to celebrate our collaboration.

The Frejus tunnel reopened in August 2005 but the amount of traffic is still higher than before the summer season. The local people can breathe …till the next tragedy…