Res­i­dents Frus­trated with Rail Fees

The Victoria Standard - - Local News - CHAR­LOTTE VAN DOMMELEN

Un­rest, frus­tra­tion and a call for gov­ern­ment help were at the core of con­ver­sa­tion this past Sun­day at the St. Joseph's Par­ish Hall in Bras d’or. Called to­gether by the Cape Bre­ton Rail­way Vic­tims As­so­ci­a­tion, mem­bers of the pub­lic voiced their anger at be­ing left in the dark re­gard­ing atro­cious fees and un­set­tled lease agree­ments plagu­ing those who live on prop­er­ties ad­ja­cent to the rail­way.

Meet­ings have been held over the past num­ber of years re­gard­ing the is­sue; both in pub­lic form and in the pres­ence of only as­so­ci­a­tion heads and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing Premier Stephen Mcneil. Ken Jar­dine, who re­signed dur­ing Sun­day's meet­ing as the Chair of the Rail­way Vic­tims As­so­ci­a­tion, made clear that he is run­ning out of pa­tience and op­tions, re­mark­ing, “I am ab­so­lutely heart­bro­ken, I don't know what else to say. You don't need me any more, you need a pit bull.” Jar­dine has lost faith in lo­cal gov­ern­ment, cit­ing many bro­ken prom­ises and lack of ac­tion on the part of lo­cal gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials. Jar­dine stated that, even af­ter pub­lic pleas for change, “Fees are worse now than when the Dex­ter gov­ern­ment was in power.”

Mike John­son, who is di­rectly af­fected by the is­sue, was nom­i­nated and is now, by ac­cla­ma­tion, Chair of the As­so­ci­a­tion and is ready for a fight. In ref­er­ence to his new po­si­tion John­son stated, “If you want me, I need you.” Soon af­ter, those in at­ten­dance sug­gested bring­ing the is­sue to big me­dia, tak­ing the topic to the floor of the provin­cial leg­is­la­ture and, if need be, us­ing civil dis­obe­di­ence as way of draw­ing pub­lic at­ten­tion to the lin­ger­ing prob­lems and un­fair charges.

To date, some res­i­dents have re­ceived bills as large as $18000 from Rail Amer­ica in con­nec­tion to permits for run­ning util­i­ties across tracks to per­sonal prop­er­ties. Grow­ing fees for ve­hi­cle cross­ings and fees for leased land have also been a huge is­sue. CBRM has paid close to one mil­lion dol­lars in ac­cess fees alone since 2007. Ac­cord­ing to an ear­lier agree­ment, leased land was to be sold to lease­hold­ers, yet those look­ing to buy the land have had their fi­nances tied up in lawyer fees and lump sums placed aside for the land pur­chases, and have yet to see any land deeds. Deeds are still be­ing held by the rail com­pany. For some the pur­chase process has been go­ing on for years.

Fees were orig­i­nally meant to en­sure care of the tracks and sur­round­ing ar­eas. How­ever, res­i­dents are ap­palled with the con­di­tion of the lo­cal rail­way and lack of care that fees are sup­posed to be cov­er­ing. Many worry that the tracks are be­com­ing un­safe and that lack of main­te­nance to veg­e­ta­tion could be a vis­i­bil­ity hazard for cross­ing traf­fic. Though the last en­gine ran down the line in 2015, the track-en­abled rail­way truck has been seen spo­rad­i­cally, and causes threat for ar­eas of poor cross­ing vis­i­bil­ity.

Jar­dine made clear that mem­bers of the gov­ern­ment in­clud­ing Premier Stephen Mcneil, Min­is­ter of Trans­porta­tion Ge­off Ma­clel­lan, and Vic­to­ria-the Lakes MLA Pam Eyk­ing were in­vited to the night's meet­ing; how­ever, none were in at­ten­dance. Former MLA Keith Bain and newly elected Coun­cil Mem­ber for CBRM District 2 Ear­lene Mac­mullin were present.

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