Lac-Megantic: police tight-lipped about ‘operation’ at rail company’s Quebec office
by Andy Blatchford and Julien Arsenault, The Canadian Press
Wouldn't disclose whether officers were searching MMA office or questioning someone
FARNHAM, Que.—Provincial police conducted an operation at an office belonging to the railway involved in the Lac-Megantic disaster—the latest legal headache for the American companies connected to the deadly crash.
Police were at the office of the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway (MMA) in Farnham, Que., a town between Montreal and Lac-Megantic.
Police wouldn’t disclose whether they were searching the MMA office or questioning someone, but they described the event as natural, given the ongoing criminal investigation into the tragedy.
Company chairman Ed Burkhardt was questioned for hours by provincial police during his visit to Lac-Megantic after the tragedy.
“There’s an operation—which is normal, given the investigation,” said police spokeswoman Aurelie Guindon.
“I can’t confirm what the nature of that intervention is … But yes, we can’t deny that something’s going on—because there’s a patrol car in the parking lot.”
An official with MMA said she was aware of the police operation at its Farnham office, but she did not offer any further details.
Sara Osborne said company president Robert Grindrod was not immediately available to comment.
Meanwhile, an executive with Burkhardt’s Illinois-based Rail World Inc., MMA’s major stockholder, said she was only made aware of the police activity in Farnham after receiving a call from the media.
“That was the first I had heard of it,” said Cathy Aldana, who added that Burkhardt was not immediately available to respond to questions.
“I’m just trying to reach out to our people to find out if they … know about it, or the circumstances.”
The companies have been under the spotlight ever since MMA rail tankers carrying crude oil smashed into the heart of Lac-Megantic, triggering a series of explosions and engulfing the area in fire.
The crash wiped out dozens of buildings in the downtown core, while millions of litres of oil leaked into the soil and nearby water bodies.
A number of lawsuits have been launched in the case, in addition to separate investigations being conducted by police and transportation safety officials.
Lac-Megantic’s mayor announced earlier this week she had sent a lawyer’s letter to MMA, demanding that it immediately reimburse the town $4-million for environmental cleanup costs.
Colette Roy-Laroche alleges the community had to pick up the tab for MMA because it failed to pay companies it had hired to mop up crude oil that spilled from the damaged tankers.
Roy-Laroche’s office has said the company was given until noon July 25 to respond to the letter.
Shortly after the deadline passed, Aldana said she was unsure whether MMA had answered the letter.
And this might only be the start of the companies’ legal problems.
Earlier in the week a wrongful-death lawsuit was filed in an Illinois court against Rail World, MMA, Burkhardt and several American petroleum companies linked to the disaster.
The Illinois lawyer, who filed the court documents on behalf of the family of a Lac-Megantic man killed by the derailment, said he expects to present many more similar suits that could seek millions in damages from the defendants.
“I have not seen someone come here to serve the lawsuit on us yet,” said Aldana, who added she had only heard about it after being questioned by media.
Companies connected to the derailment may also face another legal challenge after a motion was presented last week in a Quebec court seeking permission to file a class-action lawsuit over the crash.