Nearly 10 years after Lac-Mégantic, the crude-oil train wreck that claimed 47 lives and led to new tank car regulations in Canada and the U.S., problems persist in the efforts to build a bypass around the bucolic Quebec village—namely, land acquisition to construct the right-of-way, a joint effort of the Canadian federal and Quebec provincial governments and Canadian Pacific Railway, which now owns and operates the railroad. On Jan. 17, Canadian Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra said he had decided not to extend the “mutual negotiation period” with the remaining impacted landowners after doing so three times, so that the project can move forward. Now, he has delivered on his decision.
“The completion of the Lac-Mégantic bypass remains a priority for our government,” said Alghabra in a Feb. 14 statement. “This will finally mean that no trains will travel through downtown Lac-Mégantic. Today, we are at a turning point in the advancement of this project. Important steps must be made now so that the rail bypass becomes a reality as soon as possible, including the acquisition of the necessary parcels of land for the project. These lands are essential to the construction of the bypass.”
Alghabra, stating that “as Minister, I have to make decisions, and sometimes they are very difficult decisions; the one I am announcing today was particularly challenging,” notified residents whose property is subject to what amounts to eminent domain that Canada’s federal government is taking legal steps to move the project forward.
Alghabra has “asked the Minister of Public Services and Procurement Canada, Helena Jaczek, to initiate the expropriation process in order to acquire the necessary lands for the construction of the Lac-Mégantic rail bypass. The request was accepted by Minister Jackzek, and a notice of intent to expropriate was published today in the Registre foncier du Québec (Quebec’s land registry) for the land parcels required for the project. Over the past few hours, Public Services and Procurement Canada has contacted landowners by e-mail or telephone to inform them of this notice. The landowners have also been made aware that they will receive an official notice by registered mail. This official notice will contain detailed information about the expropriation process and what it means for each landowner.”
Alghabra implied that the land acquisition process has been frustrating: “The Government of Canada was firmly committed to reach an agreement with all landowners affected by the acquisition process,” he said. “Since the beginning of negotiations in 2021, we have extended the negotiation period three times to allow landowners more time to properly evaluate their offer, to use the services of experts, and to obtain reports related to the value and sale of their property, if necessary, while fostering constructive exchanges during the negotiations. Unfortunately, for various reasons, the Government of Canada has not been able to finalize purchase and sale agreements with all the landowners.”
Alghabra added that he “understands that some of the landowners are angry, saddened or anxious about this decision. Believe me, it was not taken lightly. However, we must not lose sight of the project’s core objective, eliminating trains travelling through downtown Lac-Mégantic. To make this project a reality, we must move forward. I would like to assure the landowners that we will be at their side throughout this process. We will continue to answer their questions and work with them every step of the way. Our government remains committed to providing landowners with fair and equitable value for their properties.”
Alghabra recently visited Lac-Mégantic, Nantes and Frontenac, meeting with the mayors—Julie Morin, Daniel Gendron and Gaby Gendron—as well as with François Jacques, MNA (Member of the National Assembly)for Lac-Mégantic. “I heard the various perspectives and reiterated that we want to continue working together in a constructive manner,” he stated. “I also had a very emotional meeting with citizens who lived through the tragedy and who told me how much they are counting on our government to make this bypass a reality. The decision to proceed with the expropriation, as difficult as it is, is my commitment to the community members who want this project to move forward, especially as we mark the 10th anniversary of the tragedy in July of this year. Our government is fully committed to this project, and we will remain so until it is completed.”