Property owners in Lac-Mégantic’s red zone say they are being pressured to sell their homes immediately, Radio-Canada is reporting.
The zone was the area hardest hit by the deadly derailment of a runaway train loaded with crude oil in July 2013.
Homeowners in the red zone say they've been invited to meetings with representatives of the town and provincial government ministries responsible for the town’s rebuilding to discuss details of Quebec’s recently announced $60-million compensation package.
A group of owners told Radio-Canada in an exclusive interview that they’re being warned of the possibility of long-term contamination from the thousands of litres of toxic crude that spilled and seeped into ground and nearby lake, and are being advised to sell.
Resident alleges 'intimidation'
Red zone resident Hélène Rodrigue said they're facing “intimidation.”
“It’s to make us scared,” Rodrigue said of the claims of long-term contamination.
Rodrigue says she’s not interested in selling her home.
Soil tests conducted by Quebec’s Environment ministry show that her property is not contaminated, she said.
“There’s no oil beneath the house. There’s absolutely nothing. My house is fine,” she said.
She plans to return to her house once the red zone is deemed sufficiently decontaminated.
That goes against the advice of people like Michel Duval.
Duval is general manager of the regional Caisse Desjardins and part of a group of business people that is hoping to redevelop the devastated downtown core.
Duval says the Quebec’s environment ministry is making no guarantees that the red zone will ever be decontaminated, and property owners should sell while the offer still stands.
“Who will finance and insure their homes? There are a bunch of problems that can arise. And what if the government’s offer isn’t valid in two years time,” he asked.
Call for greater transparency
A group of red zone residents calling themselves the "Carré Bleu” (Blue Squares) are challenging such assertions and demanding more transparency in the compensation negotiations.
“Where are these facts coming from? Are there facts to prove these claims? Are there expert opinions on where the level of contamination will be at three years from now,” said the movement’s spokesperson, Jonathan Santerre.
Line Crevier of the Insurance Bureau of Canada told Radio-Canada that residents have nothing to worry about.
“Insurers are renewing their contracts. There have been renewals in the last 12 months [since the disaster occurred],” she said.
Local mortgage brokers had the same message.
“There is no evidence that mortgages aren’t being approved or renewed with people in that sector,” said Julien Chaumont of the mortgage firm Hypotheca.