A pair of bridges on the Holland- Sydenham Town Line between Grey Road 29 and the 2nd Concession South have been closed for nearly four years, and despite a concerted effort by the current council to find a solution to replace and reopen the bridges, progress is slow.
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, which prepared Meaford's State of the Infrastructure (SOTI) report for bridges in 2015.
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 they came to the same conclusion as the SOTI report a year earlier – that the bridges, which had at that pont been closed for more than a year, should be removed permanently, and that recommendation has area residents frustrated.
“The structures are quite aged. They are older than 70 years and have heavy swelling and cracking,” Mike Neumann of Planmac told Council when presenting the environmental assessment report in 2016. “The structures are in poor condition, and they are continuing to deteriorate.”
Desspite the preferred solution identified in the environmental assessment, members of Council have continued to press staff to find a solution that would see the bridges replaced. Council set aside $50,000 for another environmental assessment that would seek the best option for reopening the bridges.
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 on July 13. “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 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 of this year, 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 embarking 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 puts Meaford's council between a rock and a hard place, and staff advised that Meaford's options are limited.
“Should Council wish to attempt to get the Township of Chatsworth to agree to move forward with bridge replacement, the Municipality would have to enter into the arbitration process as defined in by-law 2020-17. This would require both municipalities to appoint an independent arbitrator, who would then jointly agree on a third arbitrator,” staff advised Council in their July 13 report. “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.”
As a result staff recommended to council that they should accept the existing environmental assessment, which would result in the removal and permanent closure of the bridges, a recommendation not supported by Council nor the area residents who want the bridges replaced and reopened.
“There are many reasons for these bridges to remain open. We access many hundreds of acres east of the closure to maintain feed for our dairy herd,” one local farmer told council in April of 2017. “I feel that this is a unique situation in that the Town-Line road is the only level way out of the valley. Concession 2 Meaford and Concession 10 Chatsworth are definitely not safe alternative routes for our families, employees, supply companies, or whoever else uses that safe route out. There are also two working dairy farms west of us that share the same concerns. These alternative routes are not acceptable for moving feed for our cows, planting and harvesting our crops, or just trying to get to Grey Road 29.”
Members of Council, who spent roughly an hour and a half of their five-hour July 13 meeting debating the issue, encouraged staff to continue engaging with the Township of Chatsworth in order to find a way for the two municipalities to share in the cost of replacing the bridges while avoiding the arbitration process. The first step would be to embark on a new environmental assessment, which Council was told could be approached as an amendment to the existing assessment at a cost of roughly $18,000, though Council was reminded that the result of the environmental assessment would be binding, and if Chatsworth isn't willing to participate, Meaford could find themselves on the hook for the full cost.
After a lengthy debate, council approved an amendment proposed by Councillor Steve Bartley to defer any decision to move forward in order to allow staff to gather current costings of potential bridge replacement options in order that council can have a sense of the potential costs prior to embarking on a new environmental assessment.
“What I would like to do is to delay the decision on this,” Bartley told Council. “I like the idea of getting some prices because I'm one of the main people behind (the desire to) replace these bridges, but I'm not paying $2.5 million to replace these bridges, I just can't.”
Estimates for replacing the bridge structures were provided in 2016, and ranged from roughly $750,000 for a single lane corrugated steel plate culvert structure, to as much as $2.4 million for a concrete structure. Council was reminded during the July 13 meeting that a single lane would not be suitable for the location as it would not accommodate farm vehicles.
Council unanimously supported Councillor Bartley's amendment, and staff was directed to engage a consultant to investigate current costing and bridge design options, while also continuing to engage with the Township of Chatsworth in hopes of gaining a partner to share the costs for replacing the bridges.