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Quebec pledges $60-million more to help rebuild Lac-Mégantic, compensate victims

The Quebec government has pledged $60-million in additional financial aid to help rebuild Lac-Mégantic, just over one year after the fatal rail disaster that destroyed part of the town.

Municipal Affairs Minister Pierre Moreau said on Sunday that some of the new money will also go to compensate victims of the tragedy.

A total of 47 people died last year when a runaway train transporting volatile fuel oil derailed in the centre of town and exploded.

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The provincial government acknowledged on Sunday that financial aid so far has not been sufficient to cover the needs of the town, its citizens and businesses.

"This financial aid will help us reach three goals: firstly, help the community get back to a normal life; secondly, revive the local economy; and thirdly, support the rebuilding of the town," Mr. Moreau said.

Of the $60-million being earmarked, $37-million will go directly to property owners and merchants located in the so-called "Red Zone," the area around the explosion site.

There have been complaints from some people whose businesses were destroyed or damaged in the explosion that reconstruction is taking longer than anticipated and that politicians' promises to fully compensate them have not been kept.

"It's taking extremely long," said Yannick Gagné, owner of the Musi-Café, the bar at the centre of the disaster where most of the 47 people who died spent their final evening.

Mr. Gagné said he and his father – who is helping bankroll the rebuilding effort – have invested a lot of their own money to erect a new venue and that red tape and insurance-coverage complications have made the project a nightmare.

He said he is in the dark as far as how much he will ultimately end up getting in government aid, both provincial and federal.

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A number of merchants who are keen to restart their businesses are frustrated by the red tape and lack of response from government agencies, he said.

He recalled promises made last year by former premier Pauline Marois that the townspeople would be compensated to the full extent required to put them back on their feet just as they were before the catastrophe.

"We're still waiting," he said.

Only a few businesses have so far been rebuilt. A temporary commercial district built outside the ravaged downtown is mostly empty.

A key issue is that the

new structures' costs are significantly higher than what the provincial government is prepared to cover because it is going by the much lower value of the old buildings that were lost, said Mr. Gagné.

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Rebuilding is also contingent on decontamination of the soil in the Red Zone, which only started about a month ago.

Mr. Moreau said Lac-Mégantic has so far received $409-million in government aid since the July 6, 2013, disaster.

Meetings with the 37 merchants affected by the disaster will get under way this week, he said.

On the federal side, the government has since mid-June been providing loans to local businesses.

Prior to the PQ government's loss to the Liberals in the April general election, the province and Ottawa fought over how much the federal government should contribute financially to cover reconstruction costs, including building a new railway line to bypass Lac-Mégantic.

The cost of a new line has been estimated at about $175-million.

An agreement between Quebec and Ottawa was reached in February whereby the two governments signed on to a 50-50 split with no maximum on the final amount.

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About the Author
Quebec Business Correspondent

Bertrand has been covering Quebec business and finance since 2000. Before joining The Globe and Mail in 2000, he was the Toronto-based national business correspondent for Southam News. He has a B.A. from McGill University and a Bachelor of Applied Arts from Ryerson. More

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