|May 10, 2006
CN offers Lake Wabamun residents $7.5M
|The Lake Wabamun residents committee overwhelmingly endorsed a new $7.5-million settlement offer from CN Rail that would see
them compensated quickly for damages caused by the derailment last August that spilled hundreds of thousands of litres of heavy oil
along the shoreline and into the lake.
The residents committee voted to endorse the framework of the offer to reimburse residents for loss of use and enjoyment of the lake
at a three-hour meeting at Seba Beach on Saturday.
The lake's 1,600 residents now have until June 30 to decide whether to accept the settlement or take their chances in court.
"Of about 60 people, 58 people voted in favour. ... We think it's probably not a bad deal," said Doug Goss, chairman of the Lake
Wabamun residents committee.
The framework agreement is contingent on current water advisories being lifted by the middle of June, so that residents can enjoy
access to the lake this year. Goss said there must also be an expert opinion that only a remote possibility exists that the advisory
would ever be reinstated.
The offer does not extend to those participating in separate lawsuits including the $775-million suit filed by Paul First Nation
members, boat owners who filed a recent $137-million lawsuit, and property owners who are independently pursuing a court
solution, Goss told The Journal Saturday.
The residents committee was set up by local homeowners to avoid lawsuits and ensure people get fair and prompt compensation.
It means obtaining a settlement in about nine months instead of five or six years, which would be the likely duration of a lawsuit, he
Nonetheless, if any of the 1,200 residents don't like the framework agreement negotiated between CN and the residents committee,
they can still pursue a lawsuit, he said.
The offer represents a $2.5-million increase from CN's previous proposal in March and provides varying compensation. The most
affected, year-round residents at the Whitewood Sands derailment site will receive $27,000. The least affected, such as some
non-lake-front property owners, will receive as little as $1,500.
Sean Finn, CN senior vice-president of public affairs, said the framework agreement was fair compensation for the inconvenience
experienced by residents. "CN is very pleased that the good working relationship between CN and the Lake Wabamun residents
committee has resulted in the decision to take this offer forward, subject to the water advisories being lifted in June," Finn said in a
A Capital Health Authority decision to lift water advisories against drinking the water and swimming by mid-June appears likely, Goss
said. "All the expert opinions that are coming back are saying: 'there aren't any health risks.' ... There are some tar balls and things
like that which are unsightly but don't pose any health risks," he said. "There is no toxicity to this stuff anymore," he said.
Capital Health Authority medical officer of health Gerry Predy said water tests taken as recently as two weeks ago were promising.
"They didn't look too bad," Predy said Saturday.
Advisories could be lifted by the end of this month, he said. Hunting and fishing bans will continue until at least the fall subject to
provincial testing, he said.
In the meantime, water quality will be monitored weekly until officials are certain water is not affected by warming temperatures and
that it is safe for domestic use in showers and lawn watering, Predy said.
"We do not know how the contamination is going to be affected as the lake warms up. You have to do it over time to be sure there is
nothing else happening," he said. Lake residents told him they do not want the advisories lifted too soon if it only means re-imposing
them again later, he said.
If the settlement is accepted, it will represent full and final payment for all past and future claims related to the derailment, CN said.
Forty-five cars derailed on the north shore of the lake early in the morning August 3rd last year. Twelve cars ruptured, spilling about
733,000 litres of bunker fuel oil and pole treating oil.
Source: Jac MacDonald, The Edmonton Journal