A five-person delegation from Franklin County visited Lac-Megantic, Quebec, on Wednesday, offering support in the wake of a train explosion that killed 50 people, displaced 2,000 and destroyed much of the downtown.
Ryan Morgan, chairman of the Farmington Board of Selectmen, said people from the area have been asking them how to help Lac-Megantic, which is 10 miles over the Maine border. The purpose of the trip was to learn what Lac-Megantic — Farmington’s sister city — specifically needs.
Morgan said the devastated town is inundated with canned food and donated clothes, but is in need of cash donations.
Along with Morgan, the delegation included Danny Devoe, a French-speaking employee from Gov. Paul LePage’s office; Scott Landry, of the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce; Stephen Philbrick, of the Rangeley Lakes Chamber of Commerce; state Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, and resident Charlene Tremblay.
Saviello said the town plans to split donations into three categories: rebuilding, helping local businesses and helping people. He said town officials are concerned about helping people who were uninsured or underinsured recover.
Morgan said they presented Lac-Megantic Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche with letters from Franklin County residents offering support along with patches from Franklin County fire departments and the Farmington Police Department.
“We wanted to let her know that we support her. She held onto the Farmington PD pin like it was her rock,” Morgan said.
Farmington formed the sister-city partnership with Lac-Megantic 22 years ago, so the two could share culture and economic growth. Delegations from Farmington have occasionally visited the city 93 miles away since the beginning of the partnership.
Morgan and other members of the delegation also plan to encourage Mainers to visit the town and support its local economy. Morgan said the town’s tourism sector, which includes attractions such as the lake and golf course, were another casualty of the train disaster.
“If you’ve got a passport and you’re looking for a scenic drive, by all means go across the border. Go play golf. Go buy lunch,” he said. The closest border crossing is at Coburn Gore on Route 27.
Landry said there is a 10-foot-deep crater left from the train, and they have removed only three train cars from the wreckage. He said the delegation was not able visit the red zone, the area marked off surrounding the scene of the accident.
Landry, president of the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce, said they were well received and the town officials said multiple times that they were grateful for the Franklin County firefighters who responded to the call for help early on July 6.
After the Farmington delegation’s meeting with the mayor, Saviello was interviewed by members of the Canadian press outside.
Saviello, who also visited the city last year, said the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department regularly exchanges officers with Lac-Megantic police and the town of Rangeley exchanges a spruce tree with the Quebec town every Christmas.
In Farmington, selectmen voted July 10 to open the Lac-Megantic Relief Fund at TD Bank, where people can donate money into the account for Lac-Megantic officials to use at their discretion. Selectmen also added $500 to kickstart the fund.
Meanwhile, the Oakland Board of Selectmen voted Wednesday not to donate town money to Lac-Megantic, but to encourage private donations, which can be made at the town office.
Kaitlin Schroeder can be contacted at 861-9252 or at: