University students find Lac-Megantic on verge of rebuilding after disaster

Repost from The Portland Press Herald, Portland, ME
[Editor: See photos, following the text below.  – RS]

UMF students find Lac-Megantic on verge of rebuilding after disaster

But the residents of the Quebec town are divided on how to proceed.
By Kaitlin Schroeder, December 4, 2014

FARMINGTON — More than a year after a train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded in downtown Lac-Megantic, the Quebec town is making plans to rebuild.

A group of students from the University of Maine at Farmington who recently visited the town just over the Maine border said the community is working on a plan to rebuild, but is divided on how to proceed and hoping it can come up with the necessary money.

The students visited Lac-Megantic last month on the pilot trip of Global Perspectives, a two-day UMF excursion program focused on making international education more accessible and affordable for students.

The town was devastated July 7, 2013, by the worst Canadian railway disaster in 150 years, when an unmanned train with 72 carloads of crude oil rolled down an incline, derailed and exploded, killing 47 people and leveling 40 downtown buildings in the town of 6,000.

Over the past year, the town has started slowly to rebuild. The Farmington students visited the recently rebuilt public library, and on Wednesday they met with Maurie Stockford, director of the Farmington Public Library, to present her with tokens of friendship from its Lac-Megantic counterpart.

Farmington and Lac-Megantic are longtime partner towns. The Farmington library led a book drive to help Lac-Megantic rebuild its library and replace its collection of 60,000 books.

Clint Bruce, assistant professor of French at UMF, who helped lead the trip the first week of November, said Lac-Megantic officials are getting ready to start reconstruction.

Senior Tobias Logan said the town’s residents want to move past the disaster and are primarily interested in finding government funding to help pay for reconstruction. The cost of rebuilding the town is estimated at as much as $200 million.

Bruce said some limited reconstruction already has started. After the downtown destruction, he said, some of the businesses left but others, such as a large grocery store, have set up shop again on the outskirts of town.

Bruce said there are differing opinions about how to rebuild downtown, some wanting it exactly the way it was and others hoping to take advantage of the opportunity to make changes.

While community members disagree on some points, Bruce said, there is one area of consensus: Residents want to reroute the train tracks.

“They scare people,” he said. “People want the trains to go around the town.”

The railroad is operational again, and residents fear it will derail again, he said.