Lac-Mégantic rail bypass jointly funded by Ottawa and Quebec but not all residents on board
Property owners affected by chosen route post protest signs as politicians visit town
As he officially announced a new railway bypass in front of the Lac-Mégantic, Que., train station on Friday, Justin Trudeau's words were met with applause by a small group of residents. But the prime minister's tone was sombre.
"When politicians make these types of announcements, they are usually all smiles," said Trudeau, "but today we would do anything to go back in time to avoid having to make this announcement today."
Trudeau told the small group Friday's announcement is important for the whole country, which mourned the 47 lives lost on July 6, 2013.
"We're taking an important step to help heal the wounds of a community that's been through so much."
Ottawa and the province will share the cost of about $133-million project, with the federal government footing 60 per cent of the bill.
Project met with frustration
Some in Lac-Mégantic have been demanding a rail bypass ever since a runaway fuel train barrelled into the centre of the town, derailed and exploded nearly five years ago.
Last year, the BAPE, Quebec's environmental review board, held public consultations in the community to evaluate three proposed routes for the new track.
Residents of Lac-Mégantic and the neighbouring villages of Nantes and Frontenac found out earlier this week the new track to keep trains out of Lac-Mégantic's downtown has been approved.
Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau confirmed Friday that 44 property owners will be have to cede part of their land.
He said meetings with those residents will begin immediately to discuss adequate compensation.
But those discussions could be tense. While the mayor of Lac-Mégantic welcomed the announcement, it has been met with anger and frustration by some residents.
The bypass route is slated to be built just a stone's throw from Emmanuelle Dumont`s Lac-Mégantic home. She has joined a group of neighbours who have put up signs in their yards in the hope that Trudeau and Premier Philippe Couillard will see them and note their opposition to the project.
Dumont and her neighbours planned to attend an information session Friday afternoon.
"We will make our voices heard," she said. "We want to be understood."
Sandra Jacques will see her property chopped in half by the new tracks. From her patio, Jacques choked back tears, pointing across a vast expanse of greenery.
"My parents are elderly, and they live on the other side of this property," she said.
"They won't be able to just walk to my house anymore. It's ridiculous."
For Jacques, no amount of compensation will do.
"How can you put a price tag on a broken heart?" she said after the announcement.
"How much does a family legacy cost?"
Couillard said several factors were considered in choosing the new train route, including the proximity to the town's industrial sector.
"The bypass has to be far enough away from town, and close enough to businesses to contribute to the economic well-being of the community," he said.
Safety still a concern
Several residents, including Dumont, have said they don't think moving the tracks will make the trains any safer.
"They will still carry hazardous material. We're just moving the problem to another area."
Raymond Lafontaine, who lost several family members in the 2013 Lac-Mégantic rail disaster, said even if the track is moved, trains will still be parked on a downward slope at Nantes.
That was one of the contributing factors to the tragedy.
But Garneau said a great deal has been done in the past five years to increase rail safety, including banning certain types of tanker cars. He said the government is continuing to work toward improving rail transport.
The mayors of Frontenac and Nantes have publicly said they oppose the chosen route because it would cut through farmland and development projects in their municipalities.
Nantes Mayor Jacques Breton has accused the governments of using the rail bypass announcement for political gain — a claim Lac-Mégantic Mayor Julie Morin vehemently denies.
"The mayors of Frontenac, Nantes and I have been meeting nearly every week with different levels of government, and they've been able to ask questions," she said.
"The governments have to make decisions based on their budgets and deal with all kinds of challenges."
Couillard said 12.8 kilometres of track will be built and should be finished by 2022.