Friday, July 12, 2024

After Eight Years, Bridges 21 & 22 to be Replaced and Reopened

Eight years after their closure, two small boundary road bridges located on the Holland-Sydenham Town Line between Grey Road 29 and the 2nd Concession South have moved closer to being replaced, and an important route for area farmers reopened.

During their February 26 meeting, Meaford council approved six recommendations included in a staff report that will see bridges 21 and 22 designed and reconstructed as two lane structures for an estimated cost of $1,032,820.

The decision by council will be good news for area farmers, who have been urging council for the past eight years to replace and reopen the bridges, noting their importance as a flat, safe route for their tractors and other farm equipment, and they have expressed concern that the bypass routes require them to navigate steep grades with their farm equipment.

A review of bridge options and proprietary bridge structures was completed to determine the preferred approach for Structures 021 and 022. Based on this review it is recommended that the existing structures be replaced with two two-lane bridges designed and constructed by Northern Mat and Bridge. This alternative allows for the shortest timeline and lowest cost. It is estimated that this solution will cost $1,032,820 and be funded from the Bridge and Structure Reserve Fund, 2024 Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund, and the Tax Stabilization Reserve,” staff advised council in a report presented at the February 26 meeting. “Prior to proceeding with the design and construction of the bridges the Class EA process must be followed to change the direction provided in the May 2017 document to close and remove the bridges. The Municipal Class Environmental Assessment (MCEA) agency has identified that the Municipality should restart the process from the beginning.”

Located near the 2nd Concession South between Bognor and Walter’s Falls, on the gravel-topped Holland-Sydenham Town Line, the two small bridges, one right after the other, see low traffic numbers by comparison to most other roads, but for area farmers the bridges are crucial.

On January 29, 2016, the Municipality of Meaford implemented the emergency closure of the bridges on the Holland-Sydenham Townline, along with another located on Concession A between Queen’s Bush Road and Harbour Drive, due to the results of the Ontario Structural Inspection Manual (OSIM) and recommendations from Ainley and Associates Structural Engineers, who prepared the 2016 State of the Infrastructure (SOTI) report for bridges in Meaford.

Though the council of the day had opted to leave the bridges closed, the next term of council, elected in 2018, had a different approach, vowing to keep all bridges open.

Over time came the realization that, being on a boundary road, the bridges were not solely the responsibility of Meaford but also the Township of Chatsworth, and council directed staff to develop a boundary road agreement with Chatsworth.

In 2018, Council received report FIM2018-04 recommending that a boundary road agreement with the Township of Chatsworth be developed, and that money be included in the 2019 budget for the removal of Structures 21 and 22. At that time, Council gave direction to move forward with the Boundary Road Agreement, but the recommendation to budget for bridge removal was defeated,” staff noted in a report submitted to Council in July of 2020. “Subsequently, Council passed a resolution in July 2019, to adopt funding model number 2 for the Bridge SOTI report, on the basis that all bridges should be replaced when necessary, including Structures 21 & 22.”

Boundary road agreements define municipal responsibilities for maintenance of roads shared between two municipalities, and provide for an arbitration process should the two municipalities be unable to come to an agreement for the maintenance or rehabilitation of a boundary road.

The Municipality entered into such an agreement with the Township of Chatsworth in February 2020, and that agreement defines the process for agreeing to capital projects and the dispute resolution process.

After finalizing the boundary road agreement, Meaford wrote to the Township of Chatsworth requesting that their council approve a resolution that would state that structures 21 and 22 should be replaced, and to agree to embark on a new environmental assessment in 2020, with design and construction scheduled for 2021. Chatsworth, however, did not agree.

Council of the Township of Chatsworth considered the Municipality’s request on June 17, 2020, and declined to approve the proposed motion. Staff received formal notice of that decision on June 18, 2020. Included in that letter is confirmation that Council of the Township of Chatsworth is in support of the original Environmental Assessment and its recommendation to close the bridges permanently.”

Chatsworth’s unwillingness to engage in a new environmental assessment and ultimately share in the cost of replacing the bridges has found Meaford’s council between a rock and a hard place, and staff advised that Meaford’s options were limited.

Given that Chatsworth has indicated that they had no interest in partnering with Meaford to fund the replacement of the two bridges, staff recommended to Council on November 2, 2020, that Meaford enter into an arbitration process with Chatsworth.

The arbitration process would incur significant costs, including arbitrator and solicitor fees and will prolong the process which may still result in an unsatisfactory result of the Municipality of Meaford,” staff advised. “The arbitration process is defined in the Arbitration Act, 1991. It should be noted that a decision by an arbitration panel is binding on both municipalities. Staff believe that an arbitration panel would uphold the existing Environmental Assessment as filed with the Province of Ontario.”

Members of council, however, opted instead to request that Chatsworth reconsider their decision. Chatsworth’s position did not change in 2020, and their position has remained the same since.

In June 2021 there was new hope for the fate of the twin bridges after a legal review of the structures indicated that the County of Grey should be responsible for at least one of the two bridges.

Staff retained Barriston Law to complete a review of Structure 21 and 22 with regard to jurisdiction based on County of Grey By-laws. The review of the structures identified that Structure 22 meets the requirements identified in County of Grey By-law No. 1102 based on its span, and therefore all repair and replacement work is the responsibility of the County. The information was provided to the County and they have completed on-site measurements to verify the information,” staff advised council in a report presented at their June 14, 2021 meeting. “As the County has full ownership of one bridge, it was determined that a decision was needed from County Council to determine the direction for the two structures. Depending on the County’s decision it is recommended that Meaford and Chatsworth would follow suit to provide continuity along this road section.”

The County has however rejected any notion that either of the bridges fall under their jurisdiction, and they have remained firm in their position to this day.

It was still unclear during council’s February 26 discussion of the issue, whether Chatsworth will be contributing to the cost of the bridge replacements.

Following the August 2023 Council meeting staff reached out to the Township of Chatsworth to obtain their upset cost estimate. To date no response has been received. The recommendations and high-level cost estimate will be provided to the Township of Chatsworth following approval by Council,” staff advised council in their report.

With council’s approval of the recommendations provided by staff, the construction of the replacement bridges could take place as early as the summer/autumn of this year.

All work impacting the stream, including demolition and abutment construction will need to be completed within the in-water works timing window of July 15 to September 15,” staff advised in their report to council. “If unknowns arise during the design and construction process these timelines will be impacted especially the Northern Mat and Bridge timeline as there is no down time in this identified schedule.”

 

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