Sunday, September 24, 2023

Council Makes Progress on Bridges 21 & 22

After seven years of grappling with the fate of two small boundary road bridges located on the Holland-Sydenham Town Line between Grey Road 29 and the 2nd Concession South, council appears to have made some progress after giving initial approval at their July 24 meeting to a revised motion put forward by Deputy Mayor Shirley Keaveney. The revised motion directed staff to move forward with a design-build tender for the replacement of Structures 21 and 22, inclusive of the cost of the required environmental assessment.

Additionally, council has directed staff to request that the Township of Chatsworth provide the Municipality of Meaford with an upset limit for their contribution to the bridge replacements, with Meaford pledging to “pay for the value of construction above the Township’s upset limit should the total cost of the project be more than twice the Township’s upset limit.”

The proposal comes after council had spent more than an hour and a half struggling with the issue during their July 10 meeting, until ultimately deferring any decision for two weeks. Councillor Steve Bartley, who proposed deferring the issue for two weeks, told council that he would use that time to meet with the area farmers who have been most impacted by the closure of the bridges for the past seven years, with the detour for slow-moving tractors and other farm equipment around the bridges often adding hours and significant cost to their work day.

Two weeks ago I deferred this so that I could have a meeting with the people that live down there,” Bartley told council on July 24. “I had that meeting, and it’s as plain as day that these bridges need to be put back in. The amount of farmers that showed up, that used these, that would use these bridges, the amount of milk truck drivers, feed truck drivers, that would like these open.”

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 are limited.

Given that Chatsworth has indicated that they have 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.

So at their July 10, 2023 meeting, council was faced with just four options: to accept the existing environmental assessment, which would see the bridges remain closed and the structures removed, request arbitration with Chatsworth, launch a legal challenge, or to conduct a new environmental assessment and construct new bridges fully funded by the Municipality of Meaford at a cost estimated today to be more than $2 million. None of the options appealed to council, and after more than an hour and a half of discussion and debate, council voted unanimously to defer the agenda item for two weeks.

With the revised motion put forward at council’s July 24 meeting receiving unanimous support, the ball is now rolling for replacement of the two bridges, with the potential for, but as yet no guarantee of, a contribution from Chatsworth to help fund the project.

The amended motion will be on the August 28 Council agenda for final approval.

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