July 09, 2008

Navigation red tape delays bridge repairs

As published in The Erin Advocate

When I heard that the mighty West Credit River is “navigable”, I was tempted to get out the canoe and give it a try.

One look at the river as it passes by downtown Erin convinced me not to bother. I’d have to drag it over the shallow, rocky areas, and maybe chainsaw my way through the fallen tree branches. Navigation of this section of the river is best left to smaller members of the animal kingdom.

Unfortunately, this navigable status may lead to a delay in rehabilitating the Mill Street bridge and adding a pedestrian bridge beside it. The Town of Erin was planning to do the work this summer.

The pre-fabricated pedestrian bridge, which would solve a serious safety issue, is ready to install.

But because the river is classified as navigable, federal approval is required to do the rehabilitation work on the main bridge, including replacement of the rusty, broken railings. Getting the approval could take more than two months, said Roads Superintendent Larry Van Wyck.

That is a problem, because regulations prohibit bridge work outside the summer months.
“I’m not overly optimistic about it happening this year,” said Mayor Rod Finnie. “Patience is a virtue. It will happen, but it may take longer than expected.”

“I’m disappointed in the delay,” said Viviana Keir, who along with other parents lobbied for years to get improvements on Mill Street. A sidewalk is now in place, which benefits children walking to or from the nearby St. John Brebeuf School. But when pedestrians come to the bridge, they must step onto the road. Water drainage on the road surface of the bridge is also a problem.

“I’d love to know what navigable means, since you can barely get your feet wet,” she said.

Under the Navigable Waters Protection Act, it means “any body of water capable of being navigated by any type of floating vessel for the purpose of transportation, recreation or commerce”, according to the Transport Canada web site.

Nicole Khalvati is an engineer with McCormick Rankin Corporation of Mississauga, which has submitted an application to Transport Canada on behalf of the Town of Erin to get approval for this project. She said they were surprised when they learned the river is considered navigable.

“We provided information on the depth, and asked for reconsideration, but we were told no.”

According to a legal notice published in last week’s Advocate, residents can now submit comments “regarding the effect of this work on marine navigation”. Send your letters to: Superintendent, Navigable Waters Protection Program, Transport Canada, 100 Front Street South, Sarnia, Ontario N7T 2M4.

The river flows south on the west side of downtown, cuts east under Main Street, and then north under Mill Street. It should be noted that the main bridge is safe for vehicle traffic. Also, special approval is not needed for erecting the pedestrian bridge, only for repairing the main one, said Van Wyck. For efficiency, the Town’s intention is to do both at the same time.

If the approval cannot be obtained this summer, the Town should investigate the possibility of installing the pedestrian bridge now, and doing the other work next year. This will increase the cost, but it would be useful to know by how much. Town council could then decide whether the added cost is reasonable.

These improvements have been needed for a long time. To be this close, only to have them delayed another year, will leave many residents shaking their heads in disbelief.

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