By Connor Lynch
COBOURG — A Northumberland County farmer whose land was contaminated in a 2011 CN rail accident in Port Hope is suing the national railway for $10.5 million.
For former dairy farmer turned cash cropper, Harris McKeen, who had eight acres of his land contaminated in the accident, this is about holding Canadian National Railway to account for what he said has been six years of grief.
McKeen, who farms in Hamilton Township, alleges that the railway failed to clean up his land. The soil was trucked away and replaced with new soil, which McKeen says was not properly screened. “It basically came from scraping land from a subdivision site and then just putting it on my property,” McKeen told Farmers Forum. He’d been in touch with CNR, he said, but all of their offers of compensation were well below the $281,000 he estimated it would cost to clean off the land itself.
He said that cleaning and replacing the soil would be a $1.5-million job, but that “no amount of money can really, properly restore all the things that you had before it happened. For anyone to have an accident on their farm, especially a train accident, it’s a tragedy,” he said.
The 2011 derailment saw 20 local residents evacuated from their homes. The accident derailed 25 train cars and spilled about 120,000 litres of jet fuel, sulphuric acid and other hazardous substances on McKeen’s property.
According to the statement of claim, the railway failed in its remediation of his property in the following ways:
• It failed to remove and completely delineate the contamination, and failed to completely remove toxic materials from the property.
• The environmental contamination from the accident was exacerbated, not mitigated.
• Drainage on the property has been affected.
• Replacement soil was full of debris, as well as being dumped and packed in a way that prevented him from growing crops on the land.
• Fencing on the property was damaged or destroyed.
The company’s lawyers deny every allegation, and deny that “the plaintiff suffered any injury, loss or damage as alleged,” according to Northumberland News. None of the allegations have been tested in court.
McKeen has requested trial by jury in Cobourg.