For more than seven years two small bridges on the Holland-Sydenham Town Line between Grey Road 29 and the 2nd Concession South have been closed to vehicular traffic. And in spite of council’s best efforts in recent years to find a way to have them replaced they remain closed, and council is frustrated.
The issue was back before council during Monday’s (July 10) council meeting, and though they spent more than an hour and a half discussing four options presented to them in a report from municipal staff, none of the options were particularly appealing. They ultimately deferred any decision for two weeks, when the issue will be back on the agenda for council’s consideration.
Councillor Steve Bartley told council that he wanted the agenda item deferred in order to allow him to meet with area farmers who have been pushing for the bridges to be replaced and reopened for the past seven years in order to discuss the options open to council, and to help determine the best route forward.
If you drive along the 2nd Concession South between Bognor and Walter’s Falls, and make a left turn onto the gravel-topped Holland-Sydenham Town Line, you’ll travel a winding road, surrounded by trees and agricultural land. Along the route you’ll pass just four driveways to residential properties. The drive is enjoyable and relaxing, but you won’t be able to travel the full length of the road, which would bring you to Grey Road 29 if not for a closed bridge. Two bridges to be precise, one immediately after the other, and both having reached the end of their useful lives.
Though the road and its two bridges sees little traffic, it is a crucial route for area farmers who regularly used the road and its bridges before they were closed in 2016.
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.
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 point been closed for more than a year, should be removed permanently. That recommendation frustrated area farmers who rely on the bridges, and in the seven years they have been closed have had to detour several kilometres around the closed bridges daily, and at times several times per day.
“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.”
Though the bridges had been closed in 2016, the next term of council, elected in 2018, took a different approach to bridges, with an expressed desire 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 of 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 puts 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 of 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 however has rejected any notion that either of the bridges fall under their jurisdiction, and they have remained firm in their position to this day.
So on Monday of this week, 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.
When the item is back before council two weeks from now, they will have the same four options to consider, though a member of council could propose a new option to consider should other ideas be developed over the next two weeks.