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A warehouse with built-in green credentials

In constructing its latest distribution centre, Metro had to learn to get along with snakes an other acts of nature

When retailers build a warehouse, highway access, long-term capacity and other logistics-related matters tend to be most important.

But in the case of Metro’s new distribution centre in Quebec, housing for snakes and what to do about a certain herb colony became top priorities.

The warehouse, which opened June 15, in the Montreal suburb of Laval, handles produce and dairy. At 241,000 square feet, it cost a cool $50 million to build.

About $1 million of that money went to preserve plants and wildlife on the warehouse’s sprawling 34-acre property.

Metro started construction in April 2012. But before it could do so it had to prove to Quebec’s environment ministry that it would respect provincial law on threatened and vulnerable species. It also had to minimize the construction project’s overall environmental impact on surrounding land.

To pull it off, Metro first commissioned Montreal’s Institute for Research in Plant Biology to conserve a colony of verbena (a small perennial herb) on the site. Quebec designated verbena as a threatened species, in 2005.

Brown snakes, a reptile that is likely to be designated as threatened or vulnerable, were also found on the site. Metro proposed to the environment ministry that it would build shelters for the slithery crawlers, says Éric Dubois, director of project management at Metro.

To get the snakes into their new homes, conservationists got into the act. They captured the snakes in the excavation area and transferred them to newly built hibernation sites of stones, called “hibernacula.”

The snakes could spend the winter there. And since the stones heat up quite easily underneath the sun, snakes flock there during cooler spring and fall days as well.

The final obstacle to construction turned out to be another threatened species: 29 cork elm trees growing smack-dab where the warehouse was to be built. The trees were carefully uprooted and transplanted to a new 150,000-square-foot conservation area on the property.

“This was hard work as these trees grow on a limestone base,” Dubois explains.

To further increase vegetation in the conservation area, shrubs such as red-osier dogwood and shrubby cinquefoil were planted, as were red ash, red maple, red oak and hackberry trees. Geotextile barriers were also installed to prevent the flow of sediment into nearby wetlands.

Dubois says that Metro did more than required by government regulations. Protecting the herbs, snakes and wet- lands even led the retailer to opt for a less-efficient warehouse design in which trucks have to travel greater distances.

But in doing so, Metro adhered to the principles of biodiversity conservation, he says.

Supply-chain wonks may not approve. Brown snakes, on the other hand, are basking in it.

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