The landowners needed for the construction of the Lac Mégantic Bypass completed their phase of negotiations with Ottawa on Friday.
Updated yesterday at 5:29pm.
Johanna Pellus The Canadian Press
The 43 affected owners, including the City of Lac-Mégantic and the Quebec Ministry of Transport, have properties located in the communes of Nantes, Lac-Mégantic and Frontenac in Estrie.
“There are still agreements that have not yet been finalized,” Transport Minister Omar Alghabra admitted in a statement on Saturday.
His company could not specify how many landlords do not have an agreement. Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC), hired by Transport Canada to acquire these lands, did not immediately respond to The Canadian Press.
A government source has nonetheless confirmed that expropriation is the option being considered for the remaining owners and that it is set to begin in the coming weeks.
The land acquisition process had begun in October 2021 with the opening of an office in downtown Lac-Mégantic where owners could meet with Canadian government officials, Mr Alghabra said.
The mayor of Lac-Mégantic says that the owners received their offers between November 2021 and February 2022 and that they “have had the time and opportunity to negotiate for those who wish”.
“It is good news for the city of Lac-Mégantic that we can move to a later phase of the project,” Mayor Julie Morin said in an interview with The Canadian Press.
The community has reached an amicable settlement with Ottawa for the 20 lots it owns that will be required for the project. The agreement was signed last November.
“Like all owners, we received our first offer. We had it evaluated on our site by professionals paid by the Canadian government – as for all citizens, she explains. We were able to make a counter offer and there was some negotiation. »
The date for the end of the negotiations has already been postponed three times. Ms Morin also recalls that, out of respect for local residents, local authorities had requested an extension as they felt the original deadline was too short.
“The Canadian government informed the owners affected by the acquisition of the properties on Friday that it will not, by mutual consent, extend the negotiation period beyond January 13, 2023. For those who have signed an offer to purchase with the Canadian government, note that these agreements remain in place,” Minister Alghabra said.
The mayor says it’s a step, even if “it’s tricky and not pleasant to get there”.
“We are still 10 years after the tragedy, we cannot say that this project is progressing quickly and citizens have had a year to negotiate,” stresses Ms. Morin.
If the stage of agreements with the owners is crucial, they say the process of getting the project approved by the Canadian Transportation Agency (OTC) is still pending.
In its most recent decision of December 13, the CTA announced that it would require a more detailed assessment of the environmental impact.
“We have been told that Transport Canada and CP (Canadian Pacific) are in the process of filing the final documents missing from the CTA […]. As soon as he begins the analysis, we are told that we have about six months to make a statement,” reports Ms. Morin.
Above all, she wishes for a clear direction and construction dates to be announced on July 6, 2023.
On July 6, 2013, the deadliest rail tragedy in Canadian history killed 47 people. A train filled with crude oil had just rolled down a slope upstream from the community before derailing in the heart of downtown Lac-Mégantic, triggering explosions and a massive fire.
The bypass project met with resistance, especially from the neighboring municipality of Frontenac and from some citizens. The mayor of Lac-Mégantic says she understands the negative impact but the benefits are greater.
“The purpose of a bypass is to minimize risk. Currently, the street is in the heart of downtown, close to more than 82% of all buildings in the city of Lac-Mégantic,” she recalls.
The Quebec Department of Transportation could not comment on the file on Saturday.