Ottawa pledges to ‘be there’ for Lac-Mégantic with $60-million aid plan

OTTAWA AND LAC-MÉGANTIC, QUE. — The Globe and Mail

Crews use heavy equipment to knock down the remains some of the partly destroyed buildings in Lac-Mégantic, Que., on July 14, 2013. (PETER POWER/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

Ottawa will provide $60-million to help rebuild the devastated community of Lac-Mégantic, Que.

Speaking in Lac-Mégantic on Monday, local Conservative MP and International Development Minister Christian Paradis said he is delivering on his commitment to “be there” for the people affected by the deadly oil spill, fire and explosions.

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“We are present as we have said from the start,” Mr. Paradis said, flanked by the town’s mayor, Colette Roy-Laroche.

Of the new federal funds, $25-million will go to the provincial government to cover expenses incurred during the first days after the tragedy. Mr. Paradis said Ottawa “will continue to work” with the provincial government, signalling that more financing could be on its way as costs climb.

The rest of the money – $35-million – will go toward projects proposed by the community and local businesses, to be overseen by the federal government’s agency in charge of economic diversification in the province.

“Some of the people here are wondering what the future has in store for them,” Mr. Paradis said. “There is now a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Ms. Roy-Laroche thanked the government, but added that more money will be needed to rebuild.

The Quebec government pledged $60-million in emergency help shortly after the deadly train derailment on July 6 that killed dozens of people. Police have confirmed 42 deaths, while five people are still missing and presumed dead.

“I applaud the Quebec government for having acted quickly – they were acting within their jurisdiction,” Mr. Paradis said.

He added that there is no federal program to deal with this type of catastrophe.

“This is a unique situation, and we hope that it will never happen again,” he said.

When asked whether the federal dollars will come with a stipulation that new train tracks will have to go around the town, rather than through it, Mr. Paradis said people in Lac-Mégantic will make that decision collectively.

“They know what their needs are. This will be managed by the regional development agency,” he said. “Everybody agrees we need a train back here to have the economy back on track … the mayor wants to avoid a second hit, [which] would be an economic crisis. ”

More than 50 non-government organizations have joined forces to call on Ottawa to improve the safety of Canada’s oil transportation system.

“Even as we mourn the dead, we must fight for the living,” said Maude Barlow, chairwoman of the Council of Canadians. “These measures cannot undo the damage done to Lac-Mégantic and other regions, but they can help reduce the risk of future disasters.”

The coalition wants a ban on shipping oil in tankers such as the ones that carried the crude through the heart of Lac-Mégantic, and for a return to two-person crews on trains, at a minimum.

Meanwhile, Quebec provincial police announced on Monday that they had retrieved black boxes from several locomotives at the crash site.

Inspector Michel Forget said the boxes had been sent to experts in the United States to be analyzed for “records,” but he would not specify what kind of information police hope to retrieve.

Public safety officials also announced that starting on Wednesday, businesses in the evacuated zone of Lac-Mégantic – the area in and around the crash site – would be able to apply for $5,000 in provincial funds to help with losses. Business owners must prove that their business is their main source of income and that they earn less than $500,000 per year. Businesses outside the evacuated zone can also receive the funding if they prove at least a 50 per cent drop in income since the derailment.

The provincial government also released an environmental-impact statement on Monday estimating that 5.7 million litres of oil spilled into the air, water and soil during the disaster. The statement also said nine million litres of oily water were recovered and that a full cleanup of the water was expected.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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