Lac-Mégantic mulls legal action over $4M in cleanup costs

As the search for victims of Lac-Mégantic continues, the city is considering legal action after the railway company behind the fatal derailment ignored pleas to reimburse the money spent on cleaning up.

Three new victims identified as search operation continues

Lac-Mégantic Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche says the town was forced to dig deep when Montreal, Maine & Atlantic failed to cover cleanup costs. (CBC)

The town of Lac-Mégantic is considering options including legal action against the railway behind the fatal derailment, because the company has ignored pleas to reimburse the $4 million the town has spent so far on cleaning up.

Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche said the town was forced to dig deep into its pockets when the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway didn’t front the cost of cleaning up the millions of litres of crude oil and debris from the July 6 disaster.

The town was left with few options when some of the contractors hired by the MM&A threatened to walk out because the company hadn't paid them.

The mayor sent a lawyer's letter to the MM&A on Tuesday, asking the company reimburse the town. The letter made other demands, including a detailed cleanup management plan.

But Thursday's 12 p.m. ET deadline for the company to reply has come and gone without a response from railway officials.

"I wish the company would behave like a good corporate citizen," said Roy-Laroche.

She said the cost of the cleanup is too high for the town of 6,000 people.

"The town of Lac-Mégantic on its own cannot afford to pay for these costs, which are only the beginning," Roy-Laroche said.

3 more victims identified

The Quebec coroner's office spokeswoman, Geneviève Guilbeault, said three more victims have been identified, bringing the total number to 34. At a news conference Friday afternoon, Guilbeault said the names of the newly identified victims will be released on its website Monday.

Insp. Michel Forget of the Sûreté du Québec said emergency crews had not recovered any new bodies today. Forty-two victims have so far been found in the city's devastated core, of the 47 confirmed dead or missing. He said crews hope to conclude the search in coming weeks, but will will continue the work longer if necessary.

"The searchers are in the process of pinpointing certain areas and we need to be meticulous," Forget said at a news conference. "We are optimistic, but realistic about the difficulty of the work." 

PM to attend commemorative mass

Forget said emergency workers will suspend their work over the weekend, while the city holds a commemorative mass for victims of the tragedy.

He said workers have bonded with the Lac-Mégantic community over the past weeks, and want to pay their respects to victims. 

"They are very rational, but very passionate about the situation," said Forget. 

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced he will attend the ceremony, as will Gov. Gen. David Johnston. This will be Harper's second visit to Lac-Mégantic since the tragedy. Quebec Premier Pauline Marois, Maine Gov. Paul LePage, and  Mégantic—L'Érable Christian Paradis will also attend.

The service will be held Saturday at 11 a.m. at the St-Agnès church, only 100 metres away from the site where dozens of freight cars exploded.

Extent of damage unknown

The community has received a combined $120 million in aid from the federal and provincial governments which will go to immediate and longer-term needs in the Lac-Mégantic area. It's expected that costs will increase as the environmental impact of the disaster becomes clearer.

"It’s impossible to know the extent of the damage," the mayor said.

The town is working closely with Quebec's Environment Ministry to deal with the contamination and find solutions.

On Monday, the ministry revealed that 5.7 million litres of light crude oil had spilled into the water, air and soil of Lac-Mégantic.

The 72 train cars were carrying 100,000 litres of oil each — or 7.2 million litres in total — when the train derailed and caused multiple fatal explosions at the centre of town.

Looking to the future

As residents of Lac-Mégantic do their best to move on with their lives, an official request has been sent to the Canadian Transportation Agency to move the train tracks from the centre of town to the outlying industrial sector.

The agency said it's reviewing the application in collaboration with Transport Canada.

The topic of rail safety was also on the minds of premiers as they met in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., for their annual gathering.

Premiers said the federal government needs to do more to ensure liability insurance requirements for railroads are strict enough.

The 13 leaders also called on the federal government to create a system that would monitor all trains carrying dangerous goods and provide real-time data on their location and contents.

The Canadian Transportation Agency has confirmed they expect their assessment of rail company's liability insurance will not be finished until at least mid-August.