Canadian Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra and Minister of Public Services and Procurement Helena Jaczek on July 15 announced a “turning point in moving forward the Lac-Mégantic rail bypass construction project” involving expropriation of land parcels, which some local residents had fought.
Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) has informed the affected property owners of the expropriation. The Government of Canada will take physical possession of the land parcels on Aug. 1, 2023, a date PSPC said “will make it possible to carry out the work as soon as possible, once regulatory approvals for the project have been obtained.” Affected property owners will receive offers of compensation by that date.
The government’s move comes just shy of ten years after the crude-oil train wreck that claimed 47 lives and led to new tank car regulations in Canada and the U.S. Problems persisted in the land acquisition efforts to build the bypass around the bucolic Quebec village, a joint effort of the Canadian federal and Quebec provincial governments and Canadian Pacific Kansas City, which now owns and operates the railroad. On Jan. 17, Alghabra said he had decided not to extend the “mutual negotiation period” with the remaining impacted landowners after doing so three times, so that the project can move forward. On Feb. 14, he delivered on his decision. However, on Feb. 19, residents of Frontenac, a neighboring town, voted down the bypass project; as such, the Government of Canada “was unable to sign deeds of sale with all of the property owners.”
The rail bypass project requires Canadian Transportation Agency approval in accordance with Section 98 of the Canada Transportation Act. An application for approval has been filed. The chosen route “will ensure that trains leave downtown Lac-Mégantic for good,” said Transport Canada. “This route was recognized as the most advantageous one by the Quebec BAPE (Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement) in 2019 and as the one with the least impact on agricultural land by the PTAQC (Commission de protection du territoire agricole du Québec) in 2020. Since the 2013 tragedy, Transport Canada has considerably strengthened its oversight program and has put in place stricter measures and requirements to protect communities that live along rail lines through regulatory and legislative reform.”
The Government of Canada said it “will continue to answer the questions of affected property owners and support them throughout the expropriation process” and that it “is fully engaged in the Lac-Mégantic rail construction project, and will remain so through to completion.”
The announcement “was the product of careful reflection,” said Alghabra. “We understand how this may be difficult for some, but it is essential to completing this project that will make it possible to remove trains from downtown Lac-Mégantic. We will support the property owners affected by the expropriation announcement throughout this process.”