The town of Lac-Megantic was left devastated by the now-infamous train derailment that left some 50 people dead and the downtown in ashes earlier this month, and efforts to clean up the mess are now causing further heartache.
Lawyers representing the city have threatened to take legal action against the rail company at the heart of the catastrophe after crews it hired to cleanup five million litres of crude oil spilled in the mess went unpaid and nearly walked off the job.
When it comes to assigning blame and issuing culpability, the time has not come to be definitive. Provincial police and the Transportation Safety Board continue their investigations into the incident and will announce their findings at some point.
But in the realm of public opinion, it seems Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railways is working overtime to play the heel.
[ Related: Lac-Mégantic demands MM&A foot cost of clean-up ]
Let's quickly go over the series of events following the catastrophic derailment that occurred earlier this month.
Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railways announced it had followed all safety measures precisely and that it was clear someone had tampered with the train before the fatal accident.
Company chairman Edward Burkhardt later changed his tune and accused the train’s single operator of negligence and lying about following safety measures.
Burkhardt himself waited four days before visiting the grieving town, saying before his visit that he would need to wear a bullet-proof vest for protection.
After Burkhardt ended his brief visit, the company “temporarily” laid off its 19 Quebec employees, citing the blocked traffic line for slowing business.
Burkhardt also told reporters the company would wait for the conclusion of the investigation before accepting blame (fair enough) but promised to help the community and way that it could.
Now, it seems Montreal, Maine and Atlantic has decided not to pay the cleanup bills, leaving the town with a $4 million tab.
The Montreal Gazette reports that three contractors tasked with cleaning up the massive oil spill nearly walked off the job last week after failing to be paid. The onus fell to the town to keep the workers going.
[ More Brew: Lac-Megantic lawyer leads lawsuit in train derailment ]
If the recovery efforts would have been abandoned or delayed, it would have pretty much gone back to square one in terms of getting the region cleaned and back on its feet.
“We can’t afford for work to stop, it’s essential to the recovery of our city,” Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche said at a Tuesday press conference.
Lawyers have requested Montreal, Maine and Atlantic reimburse the city for $4.1 million within 48 hours. That deadline will end sometime on Thursday.
We will wait for the conclusion of the Transportation Safety Board investigation before laying blame, but you have to wonder what this company is thinking.
They dealt themselves a bad hand and done everything they can to make it worse. And they managed to do it all at the expense of a community in mourning.
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