The federal government will provide up to $95-million in additional funding to assist with cleanup efforts in Lac-Mégantic, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has pledged.
Mr. Harper said Thursday the new funding represents half of the estimated costs of decontaminating the land in the small Quebec town after a devastating train crash on July 6. The estimate is based on figures provided by the government of Quebec, he said.
“I know full well that there is no amount of money that can wipe out your difficult memories or the horrible consequences of this tragedy,” Mr. Harper said during a news conference in Lac-Mégantic. “But you must know that our government is doing everything in its power to support you.”
The town is still working to recover after a runaway train hauling crude oil derailed, causing multiple explosions that levelled several downtown blocks and killed 47 people. The accident has raised questions about the safety of carrying crude by rail and prompted a series of new regulations aimed at preventing future disasters.
Some of the oil that spilled out of the tanker cars burned up in the explosions, but soil in the downtown core remains contaminated and must be removed before anything can be built on the site.
A spokesman for Quebec’s Environment Minister said current estimates put the cost of decontaminating the land in Lac-Mégantic at approximately $150-million and the costs for cleaning up the Chaudière River at about $50-million. But he cautioned that those numbers could change after bids for the work are received.
The federal and provincial governments are sharing the cleanup costs because the company whose train derailed did not have adequate insurance. Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway had just $25-million in third-party liability insurance when the crash occurred.
Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche said the town will begin the decontamination process soon and expects about 18 months will be needed to complete the work. She said about 40 per cent of the contaminated soil has been excavated so far and is being stored on a site in the town’s industrial park.
“Despite the everyday issues that we have to deal with, we are focused on the future now,” Ms. Roy-Laroche said. “Not one day goes by when the town council and I are not thinking about that future.”
She said the town is developing a comprehensive reconstruction plan and will ask residents to participate in the process. “Of course, we will need once again, to ask the federal government to contribute to that rebuilding process,” she said.
Mr. Harper said the government is aware that the cost of decontaminating the land could fluctuate and is prepared to contribute more if needed. The province and the federal government previously contributed $60-million each to help with cleanup and relocations for residents who lost their homes.
Thursday marked Mr. Harper’s third visit to Lac-Mégantic since the accident. The Prime Minister said he wanted to “pay tribute” to residents. “From the very first moments following this tragedy, the people mobilized in the town and got down to work in order to cope with the flames and the damage.”
This week, Transport Minister Lisa Raitt said the government would oblige railways to share information with municipalities about what kind of hazardous material moves through their territory by rail. The information will be historic rather than forward-looking.