Barriers to saving the rail

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Added: Thu, 12/05/2013 - 10:35pm
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An image from an MRC led protest to save the rail this past summer

Allyson Beauregard

LITCHFIELD –  Members of the Litchfield council, representatives of CN, and the newly formed Planning Advisory Committee attended a public forum, November 25, to discuss the future of the rail as well as a proposed bylaw for saving it by designating the rail a heritage monument using the Quebec Heritage Act. Designating the rail as a heritage monument would prevent CN from being able to touch the rail without suffering legal consequences.
Two CN representatives, Jean Patenaude, Assistant General Counsel at CN, and Raymond Beshro, Senior Community Planning and Development Officer, claimed that, if passed, CN could take legal action against the bylaw, and that CN does not have to respect the proposed bylaw because: the reasons stated for saving the rail were purely economically rather than proving historical significance; the rail line falls under federal legislation and does not have enough historical significance for the area; and the municipality did not give sufficient arguments to justify preserving it under the Heritage Act.
However, as Cultural Agent for the MRC Pontiac, Emilie Chazelas, stated, a municipality in the Eastern Townships was successful in using a similar method to save its local rail, owned by the Canadian Pacific Railway. 
The municipality and the MRC Pontiac stated they are left with two options: to continue as planned and pass the bylaw in an attempt to save the rail to promote economic development in the future, risking that CN, a 49 billion dollar business, pursue legal action at a large financial cost; or to abandon the bylaw and risk hindering potential businesses that would come to the area because of the transportation options the rail offers. Buying the rail was proposed by CN, but at a price of 40 million dollars; a price that those in attendance believed was well beyond the financial means of the municipality.
“We, as councillors, have a duty to promote economic development for the residents of the municipality,” said councillor, Ken O’Leary. In rebuttal, councillor Denis Dubeau stated, “but we also have a duty to keep the taxes affordable for the residents.” The MRC Pontiac has agreed to back the municipality, to an extent, for the costs incurred while fighting to save the rail. “The MRC is us, the taxpayers, and we will be essentially paying for that,” continued Dubeau.
Those in attendance also debated the importance of the rail and whether the possible costs of saving the rail would be justified. Some believed the rail is essential to promoting economic development for the area, stating that some businesses are waiting to see if the rail will be saved before investing in the area, while others believed that the rail line may not be the ticket to prosperity given that it has already been dismantled from Portage-du-Fort to Pembroke.
The meeting ended with an agreement to take some time to consider the options before deciding to pass the bylaw or to abandon it. From the date the Notice of Motion was passed in October, the municipality can wait a maximum of 120 days before passing the bylaw, to avoid having to repeat the entire process from the      beginning.