Railway company has stopped paying for Lac-Mégantic disaster cleanup: mayor

The Globe and Mail

Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche gives a press conference in Lac-Mégantic, PQ on July 13, 2013. The railroad tracks lead to the site of this tragedy, beyond the fencing at right. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

The railway company involved in the deadly train derailment at Lac-Mégantic has stopped paying for the clean-up of the disaster site, forcing the town to pick up the tab, Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche said Tuesday.

The town has sent a lawyer’s letter to Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, giving the transport company 48 hours to repay the more than $4-million Lac-Mégantic has had to pay so far to retain the three firms initially hired by MM&A.

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“This situation is highly deplorable on MM&A’s part. It’s unacceptable,” Ms. Roy-Laroche told reporters.

“The town of Lac-Mégantic cannot tolerate this.”

MM&A chairman Ed Burkhardt could not immediately be reached for comment.

Ms. Roy-Laroche said some of the contractors had stopped working on the mop-up operations and threatened to walk off last week.

“I hope that MM&A will respect its pledges and that they’ll act as good corporate citizens,” Ms. Roy-Laroche said.

A train with 72 tanker cars of crude oil operated by MM&A jumped tracks in Lac-Mégantic, on July 6, engulfing the main drag of the lakeside community in a sea of fire and killing at least 42 people.

Sûreté du Québec Inspector Michel Forget said Tuesday no new human remains had been found and most tanker cars have been removed from the site, to be decontaminated and then destroyed.

Both Insp. Forget and the provincial coroner's spokeswoman Geneviève Guilbault said officials still hopeful and optimistic that they can still discover more remains.

She warned, however, that "we'll do all we can, but we have to be realistic and cannot discard the possibility that some cannot be recovered."

Ms. Guilbault said remains of 29 of 42 victims have been identified.

Provincial Environment Minister Yves-François Blanchet has estimated that 250,000 to 300,000 litres of light crude spilled into Lac-Mégantic and the Chaudière river.

Ms. Roy-Laroche said her town is also formally asking MM&A to identify the name and the professional qualifications of the person who is in charge of supervising the contractors.

The town also does not have a complete list of the contractors and their fees and mandates.

“We won’t tolerate any delays in the works due to MM&A being negligent or its failure to pay its suppliers,” the mayor said.

“To ask MM&A to reimburse us and pay its suppliers is not asking a lot, considering the circumstances.”

Quebec Public Security Minister Stéphane Bergeron said any interruptions in the clean-up would have an impact on the decontamination of the site and would further hinder the ability to recover victims’ remains and investigate the accident.

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