Meaford council is holding off on deciding the fate of bridges 021 and 022 on the Holland-Sydenham Townline until they can gather more information and explore as many options as possible, and at their May 8 meeting they voted to set aside $50,000 in case they determine it to be necessary to undertake a second Municipal Class Environmental Assessment (MCEA).
Two major reports in the last year have recommended that the two single lane bridges be permanently closed, however council has been responsive to pressure from residents who rely on those bridges, and they have asked staff to explore options other than closure.
“Council needs to ensure that they are fully informed of all relevant information before they make a decision,” resident Ian Matthews told council at their April 24 meeting. “It is my respectful submission to you tonight that you do not have all the information, and for that reason you should not accept the EA (Environmental Assessment) in its present form.”
The resolution brought to council by Deputy Mayor Harley Greenfield, and passed by council on May 8, directs that $50,000 be allocated to the municipal bridge reserve fund to be available to conduct a second environmental assessment with a reformulated problem for the assessment to address in hopes of finding options that would replace the bridges which have been closed for more than a year. Before embarking on a second environmental assessment, council awaits a decision from the province on the findings of the first environmental assessment after the 30-day appeal period has expired.
Several members of council also expressed a desire to more fully explore opportunities for rehabilitation of the structures as opposed to a full replacement.
Not all members of council believe that a second environmental assessment is necessary, and at least one councillor believes that the municipality should ignore the recommendations to permanently close the bridges, and should instead move toward planning to replace the structures.
“I don't want to see this dead in the water. I don’t believe we need another environmental assessment,” Councillor Steven Bartley said at the May 8 meeting. “We need an engineer’s report on how to build a bridge.”
Bartley added that he thinks that “we have to rebuild these bridges somehow, some way.”
On January 29, 2016, the Municipality of Meaford implemented the emergency closure of the bridges on the Holland-Sydenham Townline, due to the results of the Ontario Structural Inspection Manual (OSIM) and recommendations from Ainley and Associates Structural Engineers, who prepared last year's State of the Infrastructure (SOTI) report for bridges in Meaford.
In September of 2016, the municipality hired consulting firm Planmac Engineering Inc. to complete a Municipal Class Environmental Assessment (MCEA) for the bridges, and in their report presented to council on April 10, they came to the same conclusion as the SOTI report a year earlier – that the bridges, which have been closed for more than a year, should be removed permanently, and that recommendation has area residents frustrated.
According to the MCEA report, the estimated cost to replace the bridges ranges from a low of $750,000 to $1.2 million for a corrugated steel plate culvert structure, to as much as $2.4 million for a cast in place or precast concrete culvert structure. The report also noted that the estimated daily traffic on the road prior to the bridges having been closed was 29 vehicles per day.
At the April 24 council meeting, Meaford Treasurer Darcy Chapman walked council through a detailed presentation focused on the bridge issue, and he answered many questions from council, which is struggling with trying to balance the needs of the residents who rely on the bridges, particularly area farmers for whom the detour routes and their hilly terrain are a challenge, and responsible management of municipal infrastructure with millions of dollars in rehabilitation and replacement funding required in the coming years.
In June of last year, a month after receiving the SOTI report, council adopted a strategy that will see the municipality spend nearly $80 million on bridges over the next 51 years, an average of $1.5 million per year.
Another avenue that Mayor Barb Clumpus would like to see explored is the possibility that Chatsworth might be partially responsible for the bridges given that they are on a boundary road. This was suggested at council previously, however all indications thus far from Grey County have been that Meaford is solely responsible for the bridges. Clumpus suggests however that the Municipal Act says differently.
“I also believe that there might be some culpability in terms of financial responsibility between our municipality and Chatsworth, because it is on a deviation road and that may be something we need to be looking at as well,” Clumpus told council. “My understanding is that according to the Municipal Act, a deviation road is the boundary between two municipalities, and therefore there is joint responsibility for bridges and structures on those boundary roads.”