As Meaford's council continues to grapple with what to do about two small bridges on the Holland-Sydenham Town Line, there's a new twist to consider – Meaford doesn't fully own the bridges.
According to a report presented to council at their February 12 meeting, staff have confirmed that the bridges are jointly owned by the Municipality of Meaford and Chatsworth.
“During the finalization of the EA process, staff had contacted Grey County regarding ownership of the structures given they were originally installed by the County. The County investigation confirmed that the bridges were 100 percent within the responsibility of the lower tier,” staff told council in their report. “Since that time, a further ownership review has occurred. The review involved consultation with Ainleys, the Grey County Clerks department and the Municipal solicitor and a thorough review of the Municipal Act.”
Based on the review of the Municipal Act along with further confirmation from Grey County staff and the municipal solicitor, staff have confirmed that the structures are jointly owned with Chatsworth.
“At this time, Meaford and Chatsworth do not have an active boundary road agreement in place. Staff are working on final drafts to be brought forward in 2018. As there isn’t a formal agreement in place, the ownership, responsibility, and maintenance reverts to an even 50%-50% split,” staff told council. “Based on this information, any further actions, whether removal or reconstruction, must be done in consultation with the Township of Chatsworth and based on an equal cost sharing arrangement.”
The discovery of joint ownership of the bridges adds a new wrinkle to an issue that has frustrated local farmers who have used the bridges for decades.
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, who prepared a 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 presented to council on April 10, they came to the same conclusion as the SOTI report a year earlier – that the bridges, which have been closed for more than a year, should be removed permanently, and that recommendation has area residents frustrated.
According to the MCEA report, the estimated cost to replace the bridges ranges from a low of $750,000 to $1.2 million for a corrugated steel plate culvert structure, to as much as $2.4 million for a cast in place or precast concrete culvert structure. The report also noted that the estimated daily traffic on the road prior to the bridges having been closed was 29 vehicles per day.
While the recommendation is to permanently close the bridges, residents and area farmers have lobbied council to find a way to replace the bridges, suggesting that the alternate routes include a steep hill that poses challenges for agricultural equipment. Council has been reluctant to approve permanent closure and removal of the bridges, and they have debated the issue exhaustively. The revelation of joint ownership has potentially tied council's hands, and Chatsworth is unlikely to help fund replacement of the bridges.
“Ultimately we have a bridge ownership issue, we have to go back to Chatsworth,” Meaford Treasurer Darcy Chapman told council at their February 12 meeting. “Chatsworth staff have reviewed the report, we had a good conversation with them, and they don't disagree with the ownership. They fully agree with our conclusion that it is a jointly owned structure, and we have to decide on the go forward jointly.”
Chapman noted however that Chatsworth has their own bridge issues to deal with, and many of those would take priority over bridges 021 and 022. Chatsworth staff have advised him that they have several bridges of their own that would take precedence over bridges 021 and 022 on the Holland-Sydenham townline.
“They cannot afford all the bridges that they have to deal with,” Chapman told council. “Anything is possible, but there is less than a 50-50 chance that Chatsworth is going to be in any kind of a financial position to pay for half the cost of replacing these structures. They are actually looking at trying to get rid of a bunch of structures that they know they can't afford (to replace).”
Council ultimately directed staff to complete the process of developing a boundary road agreement before any other decisions are made with regard to the two bridges.
“We've just now discovered that we have to have a discussion with Chatsworth in terms of next steps,” Mayor Barb Clumpus told council. “So, we can't do anything, we can't make any decisions about whether to close it or to remediate without having that discussion.”