| Jun 30, 2005


Feature article, June 30, 2005

Feature article June 30, 2005

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Mitchell Creek bridge reconstruction a long shot for 2005

by Jeff Green Concerns about the environmental impacts of the new bridge construction proposed for Mitchell Creek may have pushed the timeframe for the project out of reach for the September 1, 2005 construction deadline.

South Frontenac Townships Public Works Manager Steve Archibald said in a telephone interview, we are coming to realise that the project will not likely take place this year, and that will most likely mean further weight restrictions on vehicles that will be able to use the bridge this winter.

Several groups and individuals, including the Desert Lake Property Owners Association, the Friends of the Mitchell Creek, the Kingston Field Naturalists and others have raised concerns about the impact larger boats and increased traffic travelling through the creek will have on fish spawning, loon nesting, and other habitat related effects downstream.

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Al Robertson is the Navigable Waters Protection Inspector for Transport Canada in Eastern Ontario. It was his office that insisted that the clearance underneath the bridge be raised from its current level upon reconstruction to allow for easier navigation.

The township had originally proposed replicating the old bridge, maintaining identical clearances.

Although Robertson says he was able to lower the clearance level significantly in this case, from 2 metres above the high water mark to 1.5 metres above a mark that is somewhat lower, that was as far as he could go.

I review things only for their impact on navigation, he pointed out to the News. We determined that clearances in the original proposal were too low.

The current proposal from the township has satisfied Robertsons concerns, and he has passed it along for an internal review by Transport Canada under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

Without any glitches, this type of review process will take three to six months, Robertson said.

The review process could be lengthier in this case, however, because as Robertson said, I made a commitment to the people that are concerned, that all of the concerns that have been raised will be addressed. These are what Robertson calls glitches.

Robertson added that he has asked the division of Transport Canada that will conduct the review to give this matter some priority. But every project is a priority for someone. He did not express confidence that a review will be completed until after freeze up in the fall, far too late for construction in 2005.

At the same time, the concerned groups and individuals have requested that the Ontario Ministry of the Environment order the township of South Frontenac to conduct what are called individual environmental assessments.

The Ministry responded initially by telling the township to meet with the people involved and try to work out their differences.

Prior to the meeting the concerned groups got together and submitted a list of suggestions to Council concerning a way to go ahead with a bridge design that would satisfy both the Transport Canada clearance requirements and the environmental concerns. Acceptance of the suggestions would have led to a withdrawal of the requests for individual assessments, saving time and up to $50,000 of Loughborough taxpayers money.

According to a subsequent press release from the Friends of Mitchell Creek, the suggestions included, but were not restricted to: continued safe canoe access at the bridge, limitations on motor size for boats on Mitchell Creek, speed and channel signing to retain and protect travelers, and the retention of a single lane bridge.

Steve Archibald told the News that, some of the proposals, such as the restrictions on boat size, are out of the hands of the township. Others can be dealt with at a future time, but dont impact the construction phase.

In the end, the township did not respond to the suggestions, and after the meeting on June 7, the requests for individual assessments have been submitted to the Province.

The Ministry of the Environment will decide, in about four to eight weeks, if the township must complete these assessments.

Both township staff and the residents who have raised environmental concerns agree that the bridge will likely not be constructed this year, and agree that the implications are serious for people in the region of the bridge, ranging from simple inconvenience to serious health and safety concerns.

They disagree, not surprisingly, on who is at fault.

Ross Sutherland of the Friends of the Mitchell Creek, said, the position the Council has taken could not only affect the environment and long term economic value of the creek but will result in increased costs to all Loughborough taxpayers and significant inconvenience to the residents that live north of the bridge.

For his part, Steve Archibald said that if the requests for increased environmental assessments had not been made to both the Federal and Provincial governments by the groups and individuals, we would likely have been able to get the necessary approvals to complete construction this year.

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