The residents of Frontenac in the Lac-Mégantic region voted 92.5% against the possibility of building a railway bypass. Though desired by many since the 2013 rail disaster, the project still arouses its share of dissatisfaction, with some elected officials and citizens opposed.
Updated yesterday at 10:21pm.
“I will meet with my local council because they always decide. We will discuss that, then we will see which direction we will take after these results,” said the mayor of the municipality, Gaby Gendron, on Sunday evening.
More than half of the municipality’s 1,300 residents who were able to exercise their right to vote exercised it, namely 697 people. As many as 92.5% voted against the federal government’s proposed route that would traverse their community.
Mayor Gaby Gendron, known for his reservations about the bypass project, had expressed fears in recent years that the country would be “divided in two”. However, his administration finally accepted that the project would be carried out subject to certain conditions.
He was not surprised by Sunday evening’s results. “A telephone poll was conducted and 90% of the population voted against the project. Except that the different levels of government said it might be biased because it was made by citizens,” he recalled.
The elected officials then feared “impacts on the water table and the water quality in the wells that would result from the construction of the bypass road”. A referendum was announced shortly thereafter.
It must be said that the railway bypass has been losing social acceptance for several months. In April, La Tribune reported that the Coalition of Citizens and Organizations Committed to Rail Safety in Lac-Mégantic fears that Canadian Pacific (CP) plans to turn this new route into an “intercontinental hazardous materials transportation highway”1.
Build “As Fast As Possible”
Recently, in January, the German Transport Minister, Omar Alghabra, traveled to Lac-Mégantic to talk to the mayors of the affected municipalities, the local MP and citizens about the bypass. He then explained that he wanted to prioritize the start of construction “as soon as possible” by including measures to “mitigate” the environmental impact as much as possible.
After the meeting, the mayor of Lac-Mégantic, Julie Morin, explained that the minister had informed her of his desire to continue the planned route, “with a desire to build in the autumn”.
According to Ms. Morin, it is a “shame” “that a shovelful of earth has not yet been invested in this project” as the 10th anniversary of the tragedy approaches.
“It’s the hope that’s fading with each passing year. It was counted five times today that the train whistled through the heart of the city center at the very spot where it derailed. I can tell you that this is not an easy situation. Since July 6, 2013, there has also been a breach of trust with Transport Canada and with the railroad companies, so this adds complexity,” the mayor in particular explained.
However, the mayor of Frontenac sees it differently. “Minister Alghabra said before a witness that social acceptance is just as important for the people of Frontenac as it is for the people of Lac-Mégantic,” he said on Sunday evening.
It remains to be seen whether the federal government will proceed without consensus from the two neighboring communities or whether it will propose a new route. “We often talked about the layout of the half-bypass, but it was rejected by the hand [le fédéral]. We’ll see if he decides to put it back on the table or not,” says Gaby Gendron.
On July 6, 2013, the deadliest rail tragedy in Canadian history killed 47 people. A train filled with crude oil rolled down a slope upstream from the community before derailing in the heart of downtown Lac-Mégantic, sparking explosions and a huge fire.
With the Canadian Press