Lac-Mégantic's neighbours say rail bypass will have negative impact on their lives

Lac-Mégantic welcomes the news of government funding for a new rail bypass, but residents of neighbouring Nantes and Frontenac are furious to learn some home and business owners will be turfed from their land.

Residents of nearby towns fuming over expropriations, split properties caused by government's choice of route

Ariane Tremblay said her maple syrup business will be destroyed by the new rail bypass. (Radio-Canada)

Ariane Tremblay can't get over the shock.

After a successful first year, the Lac-Mégantic maple syrup producer and sugar-shack owner had big plans to expand her business.

She's now digesting the news that a new train track to be built to bypass Lac-Mégantic's downtown will run right through her property.

"Nearly all of my maple trees will be cut down," she said.

"Had I known, we probably would never have invested in the business."
Tremblay was among several residents of Lac-Mégantic and the neighbouring towns of Nantes and Frontenac who found out yesterday the chosen route for the new bypass will have a major impact on their homes and livelihoods.
Residents in Lac-Mégantic and neighbouring towns of Nantes and Frontenac would have preferred a route further north. (Radio-Canada)

Radio-Canada has confirmed Ottawa and the province will share the cost of the $133-million project, with the federal government footing 60 per cent of the bill.

Residents of Lac-Mégantic have been demanding a rail bypass be built to skirt the downtown since a runaway train laden with fuel barrelled into the town centre, killing 47 people after it 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.

Neighbouring towns outraged

The third of those options, approved by the review board and supported by elected officials in Lac-Mégantic, will go ahead — much to the dismay of officials and residents of the two neighbouring towns.

Josée Morin couldn't mask her anger Monday.

She said she found out after reading the morning newspaper she will be expropriated from her property which straddles the municipality of Nantes and Lac-Mégantic.

"Lac-Mégantic is just going off and doing its own thing again,"  she said.

"It's not very respectful."

The mayor of Frontenac, Gaby Gendron, said he's always been against any route which would cut any of his constituents' properties in two.

And Nantes Mayor Jacques Breton said the new bypass will encroach on the entire town.

"We're losing a lot. The expansion of the municipality will be affected," he said.

Both mayors said they're also angry they weren't consulted or told about the decision for the new route before now.

"I found out [Monday] morning the announcement would be made Friday," he said.

"That doesn't leave much time to inform and meet with residents who may have questions or concerns."

Lac-Mégantic satisfied

A coalition of concerned citizens in Lac-Mégantic said the rail bypass is good news, though it would have preferred a route further to the north, which coalition members guessed would have fewer negative impacts on residents.
Lac-Mégantic mayor Julie Morin said the rail bypass is good news for the town. (Radio-Canada)

But the town's mayor, Julie Morin, is taking the announcement as a victory.

"Lac-Mégantic has been waiting a long time for this. We need to get our community, our downtown and the health of our residents back," she said.

Morin said there would have been negative impacts for some residents regardless of the route chosen.

"This is very good news, and we have to recognize that," she said.  

Construction of the 11-kilometre bypass is slated to begin in 2019 and is expected to take two years to complete.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard are to be in Lac-Mégantic Friday to make the official announcement.