Repost from the Montreal Gazette
[Editor: Another perspective: for a local report that completely ignores the protest in Lac-Mégantic, see In Lac-Mégantic, everyone marks the anniversary in their own way, including a brief news video of church bells and a solemn ceremony. – RS]
Lac-Mégantic marches against crude oil returningBy Jesse Feith, July 5, 2015 9:09 AM EDT
Two years after the deadly derailment in Lac-Mégantic, people are starting to feel comfortable about standing up for what they want, says Jonathan Santerre, an activist and founder of the Carré bleu Lac-Mégantic citizens’ group.
The group organized a walk against crude oil in Lac-Mégantic on Saturday afternoon, where about 150 people walked from the town’s high school down Laval St. toward the old downtown.
At first, residents were afraid to speak out after the train derailment that killed 47 people in July 2013, Santerre said.
Sending loud political messages while many continue to mourn could be seen as insensitive by some, but, Santerre said, “we have no choice.”
“Emotions and politics are tied together in this, unfortunately,” he continued. “It’s shocking that after everything that happened, people’s lives still come second to money.”
Though Saturday’s march was held to denounce crude oil, Santerre knows getting oil shipments through Lac-Mégantic banned isn’t realistic. When Central Maine and Québec Railway Canada bought the line in 2014 after Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway went bankrupt following the derailment, it was clear from the beginning that oil would return come 2016.
The town needs the railroad to survive economically, and CMQ needs to ship oil on it to be profitable.
But the goal that everyone is holding onto now is a new set of tracks that would bypass Lac-Mégantic’s residential sector, even though it could take years to get one.
“What’s important is that the conversation goes on,” Santerre said. “That the debate takes place.”
The town council and a number of vocal residents haven’t seen eye to eye on decisions taken since the disaster, but the one idea both sides agree on is the new railroad. Town officials weren’t on hand for Saturday’s protest, but it had been approved by council.
“With every passing day, residents are more determined to see it done,” said Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche earlier this week about the bypass railway. “As a municipal council, we consider it a must. Not a week goes by that it’s not brought up.”
Until then, she said, “we’re preoccupied with prevention, better security measures, well-maintained infrastructure and limited speeds.”
People dressed all in white for Saturday’s march, to contrast the colour of “dirty oil.”
“Say yes to a bypass railway,” they chanted as they descended toward downtown, “say no to another oil spill.”
Gilles Fluet, 67, said he was walking to make sure what happened never does again, in Lac-Mégantic or anywhere else.
He was at the Musi-Café the night of the derailment, leaving just before the tankers crashed and ignited.
“I couldn’t be closer to it without dying, I had to run to avoid burning,” he said, holding up a sign that said “47 reasons” with a picture of residents lying across the tracks.
The post-traumatic stress symptoms have been present ever since, he said. First he avoided the sunshine because the bright light and heat reminded him of the fire he ran away from that night.
Then when the trains started coming through again in December, the sound they made was too much for him to handle.
“There are a bunch of different things that trigger it,” he said. “You don’t know when it’s going to hit you, and you don’t understand when it does.”
He fears oil returning could worsen his symptoms, or trigger some for other residents.
Nathalie Beaudet drove down from Varennes, on the south shore, to participate in the demonstration. She lost a close friend in the derailment, and recently, oil tankers have started rolling on the tracks behind her house.
“It’s scary, it terrorizes us,” she said. “I want Lac-Mégantic to get its new tracks because I know what it will do to residents once the oil starts again. They’ve been through enough, this shouldn’t be imposed on them.”
After marching through the town’s side streets, the group made its way to the railway longing the fence that cuts off the old downtown core, now a mountain of soil as decontamination work continues.
Demonstrators lined up elbow-to-elbow on the tracks, and together, symbolically crossed their arms.