Bridge ownership debated at council

By Cecilia Nasmith

Northumberland County council this week accepted a status report on two of its smaller bridges and passed a bylaw to extend restricted vehicular weights in their use.

Provincial law dictates bridge inspections every two years, and the May assessment by Jewell Engineering gave updates on existing 10-tonne weight limits on Loomis Bridge in Brighton and on Thompson Bridge in Trent Hills.

Both are small one-lane bridges on municipal roads, and Brighton Mayor Brian Ostrander put forth an amendment to the motion on the floor to extend the weight limits and to move up the next inspection of Loomis Bridge by a year.

Ostrander's amendment would direct staff to prepare a plan for the bridges' rehabilitation, and then plan for transfer of their ownership back to their home municipalities.

“I am, of course, supportive of the motion to go ahead, but I do want to have some discussion around these bridges and their ownership,” he said.

“It has been in the past, and probably will be in the future, my position that these bridges have to be rehabilitated by the county and then be turned over to the lower tiers.”

Transportation, Waste and Facilities Director Mo Pannu said that this issue has come up in the county's transportation master plan in light of the fact that bridges have begun reaching their life expectancy.

The county has some 112 bridges of varying sizes and priorities, Pannu said. Some see up to 10,000 cars a day using them, while the bridges in question see more like 100.

“We are working very closely both in Brighton and Trent Hills to come up with a plan to move forward. In the case of Loomis, we completed an environmental assessment and made a presentation to Brighton council,” he said.

Frankly, they had hoped for half the money to come from Brighton. But he noted that there had been a large staff turnover in the interim.

“We have recontacted Brighton staff and have a meeting to work out some sort of plan. We will work closely with both member municipalities, but 100% of the cost seems to be a little challenging for me. Obviously, that has to be sorted out in discussions with staff.”

Cramahe Township Mayor Mandy Martin wondered why the county was on the hook for a bridge on a municipal road. Pannu traced it back to the pressures exerted by the provincial government in the late 1990s to have municipalities merge. In some cases, he suspects, a bridge might join two municipalities.

Port Hope Mayor Bob Sanderson stated his opposition to the amendment.

“I don't know enough about costs. I don't know enough about traffic flow,” Sanderson stated.

More discussion is required, he stated, and assigning costs and ownership at this point is premature.

Hamilton Township Mayor Bill Cane pointed out the on-going discussions Brighton is having with Pannu. To act now, Cane said, would amount to jumping the gun.

“These bridges have been owned and left to come to this state by the County of Northumberland,” Ostrander argued.
In that case, he continued, it doesn't seem fair for Brighton to have to take financial responsibility for repairs to a bridge it doesn't own. And looking ahead, it wouldn't be right for a lower tier to assume ownership of a bridge that, as he sees it, was not properly looked after.

Martin agreed with the term “jumping the gun.”

“Obviously, we are getting more information even now,” she said.

“We don't have all the information. We don't know the costing and whether it's going to be a county-municipal co-operation, provincial grants, whatever. I think we are jumping the gun, and I stand by the original motion.”

“It's premature,” Port Hope Mayor Bob Sanderson agreed.

“I certainly support the fact that these jobs and perhaps other jobs need resolution. For a bridge that, in fact, serves 100 people – I sympathize with the fact that this needs to be resolved. Adding this amendment to this motion is not in the interests of the county at this point in time.”

Only Ostrander and Trent Hills Mayor Bob Crate supported the motion as amended. It went back on the floor as originally moved and was passed.