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Feature Article - August 18, 2005

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Feature Article

August 18, 2005

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ArchiveImage GalleryAlgonquin Land Claims

Gray MerriamLegaleseGeneral information and opinion on legal topics by Rural Legal ServicesNature Reflectionsby Jean GriffinNight Skiesby Leo Enright

The Line Fences Act isn't the only obstacle to Rails to Trails

Editorial by Jeff Green

Several years ago now, it was proposed that South and Central Frontenac should work to establish a multi-purpose trail along the abandoned K&P railway line that ran from south of Harrowsmith to Sharbot Lake.

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With the Trans-Canada trail having been established on the old CN line running from Tweed to Sharbot Lake, the north-south K&P trail was seen as a natural way to connect this trail with the Cataraqui trail, thus ensuring that the Trans-Canada trail would have a good run through Frontenac County. Trails were, and still are, seen as a potential economic boon to a region that is starved for tourist attractions. With amalgamation in place, it seemed as if putting a trail in place was a good role for the new municipalities of Central and South Frontenac to play. There were also promises of funding support from the Federal and Provincial Governments, who have both expressed interest in trails.

Then the complications began to set in. Liability is a real concern for municipalities, as is the condition of the railway beds in South Frontenac.

And then there is the requirement to fence. There exists a century-old Act among Ontario statutes called the Line Fences Act. Section 20 of the Act includes a clear statement that municipal governments are required to put up and maintain fences if they purchase abandoned rail lines. This was being ignored as the Rails to Trails movement had been gathering steam, but in two cases in southwestern Ontario, farmers took municipal governments to court over fencing and won. Any municipality that decides to purchase an abandoned railway is required to pay the full cost of fencing the entire length of the trail. Since then, municipal governments have been more than wary of acquiring any abandoned rail lines.

It’s hard to see how the long, complicated set of proposals for amendments to the Line Fences Act will satisfy municipal concerns about the cost of fencing the proposed K&P Trail.

The proposal includes 20 options to make the fencing cost more palatable for municipalities, but municipalities will still be on the hook for 100% of the cost of fencing, at least in all cases where any land that is part of a farm, be it land that is in use for pasture or abandoned swamp land, abuts a trail.

The cost of fencing is high; the only way to recoup these costs would be through trail fees, and those revenues are tentative at best. For municipalities under pressure to keep taxes down, such as Central and South Frontenac, taking on large costs for fencing trails is simply not going to be acceptable.

In South Frontenac there are other issues to be considered as well. Part of the trail lands go through Verona, Hartington, and Harrowsmith, and there are questions about broken-down bridges along the old K&P line which must be looked at. The question of whether new surveys are required along the trail lines before the land can be purchased must be considered as well.

A major fly in the ointment in all of this is ATV usage of trails. Much of the push for trail development has come from ATV clubs, like the Frontenac ATV club and the Ottawa Valley ATV club, and most of the projections about permit fees financing trail operations, at least in eastern Ontario, are based on ATV use.

While ATV use of trails represents a potential economic boon to the region, ATVs are also noisy and potentially dangerous vehicles. When people argue they would not like a trail running behind their house, it is generally not the occasional hiker, cyclist or horse rider that concerns them; it is the ATVs.

Coincident with the report on proposed changes to the Line Fences Act coming to Central Frontenac Council, a letter from Daniel Zadorozny, who has a seasonal residence next to the existing trail near Sharbot Lake, also came to Council.

It reads, in part: “I would like to bring to the attention of Council a problem with the use of the trail adjoining our property along Sharbot Lake. There is a high use of the trail by four wheelers and motorcycles speeding at high rates of speed, causing a great deal of dust and noise when they pass our property and the property of our neighbours to the south. The speed of these motorized vehicles also poses a danger and hazard to walkers, their children and their dogs.”

Given all of the legitimate concerns about trail development in Central and South Frontenac, the limited changes being proposed for the Line Fences Act aren’t likely to make either municipality jump quickly back onto the rails to trails bandwagon

-JG

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