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Pontiac County blocks the railway to prevent CN Rail from dismantling it

By Christina Van Starkenburg

Residents of Pontiac County blocked the tracks to prevent CN Rail from removing the railway, but after a meeting with regional officials, CN still asserts that it will, and is legally entitled to, remove the rails anyway.

Residents of Pontiac County blocked the tracks to prevent CN Rail from removing the railway, but after a meeting with regional officials, CN still asserts that it will, and is legally entitled to, remove the rails anyway.

PORTAGE-DU-FORT - 

Residents of Pontiac County staged a protest on the railway yesterday when they learned that CN rail intended to remove the tracks despite a bylaw stopping that process.

Early Tuesday morning Remi Bertrand, the director general for Pontiac County heard that CN had sent some construction vehicles up the railway to remove the tracks in Pontiac County. Bertrand called an emergency meeting, and then he drove to the tracks to remind the workers of the bylaw and get them to stop.

When they told him that their superiors instructed them to continue working regardless, Bertrand left, told Warden Mike McKrank and Transport Pontiac-Renfrew (TPR) and everyone came back a few hours later when the county parked a vehicle on the tracks.

“At (2:40 p.m.) as soon as some of the employees of Pontiac County started arriving, some (one in) CN SUV’s took pictures of the truck barricading the railway and drove off. Also they stopped all work on the rail lines,” said Claudee Galipeau the cultural development officer for Pontiac County.

If the railroad is completely dismantled than the industrial sector of the Pontiac County will suffer drastically. According to Warden Michael McCrank the situation looks pretty bleak, and he stressed that if CN is successful in removing the rail than it is a death sentence for local communities because businesses won’t be able to survive without effective transportation out of the community.

“The situation is pretty dark right now. CN is the last service provider that we have in our county. This is a life and death situation right now, and we don’t want to lose our life. This is our last opportunity to do serious economic development with industrials. When you lose your railroad you’re putting a death sentence on your community,” said McCrank.

 

Gerry Philippe the Vice-President of Canadian Operations for the Green Investment Group which manages the local industrial park also expressed the problems with the railway removal for the industries. His organization has been negotiating with companies to bring them to Pontiac County; however, those negotiations have either stalled permanently or slowed down drastically because they can no longer guarantee the presence of a railway.

“It's very difficult for us, It's devastating actually,” said Philippe. “We're trying really hard to redevelop the local economy here, but we're not being very successful because we can't access the rail.”

McCrank was also frustrated by CN's unwillingness to work with the local communities. He pointed out that when CN bought the tracks they paid one million dollars; however, they tried to sell the railway for $30 million.

While the main concern was the loss of jobs and the inability to convince other businesses to come to the area, another concern is the mental health impacts that come along with job loss. McCrank and Remi Bertrand the Director General for Pontiac County both expressed concern about the amount of increasing amount of suicides in the area because of the forestry crisis and the pulp mill shutting down.

Bertrand and McCrank were worried that the closure of more businesses could further stress the social services in the area, because those services are already overflowing with problems. Furthermore, because of the job loss people and families are leaving. Bertrand is worried that “when all those people are gone, you've basically taken the soul out of the community.”

Christina Van Starkenburg is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist.

c.vanstarkenburg@sunmedia.ca

 


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