December 26, 2012

Cedar Valley bridge top priority for grant

As published in The Erin Advocate

Town council has voted to put the bridge just east of Cedar Valley at the top of its priority list for a new provincial grant program, overturning a staff plan to seek funding for Hillsburgh's Station Street bridge and dam.

The Town had recently been turned down in an application to a federal infrastructure funding program, to cover $1 million of the Hillsburgh project, which has a total estimated cost of $2.6 million.

But a new provincial funding opportunity arose last month through the Municipal Infrastructure Investment Initiative (MIII), with 90% funding of projects, and a maximum of $2 million. About $90 million will be available across Ontario over the next two years. Council had to pick its top priority immediately, since initial applications are needed in early January.

The Cedar Valley bridge project, at a cost of $663,671, was initially the second priority for Town staff, with a potential grant of $597,303. The current bridge is seriously deteriorated and has a load restriction. It is on Station Street (Sideroad 24), the same road as the Hillsburgh project (known as the Station Street Dam).

Council decided that issues concerning the Hillsburgh dam, including preservation of the mill pond, will be discussed at a public meeting on January 29, 7:30 p.m., at the Hillsburgh Community Centre.

The staff report on the Hillsburgh project noted that the MIII program will give consideration to projects that address a "health and/or safety problem". The Ministry of Natural Resources wants the dam upgraded to be capable of withstanding a Regional Storm Event.

"The main objective is to address the most critical roads, bridges, water and wastewater projects," said Town Financial Analyst Larry Wheeler.

"The safety of property and residents downstream is of course in jeopardy and this project  remedies both the potential liability and safety concerns," the report said.

The Cedar Valley project also has a safety component, since it is 2 km west of the new fire hall and ambulance bay.

"In the event this bridge deteriorated to the point that it was deemed to be impassible, particularly by heavy emergency vehicles, then the health and safety of rural residents and residents of the hamlet of Cedar Valley would be in jeopardy."

Mayor Lou Maieron was reluctant to seek funding for a project that had recently been turned down for a grant.

"Maybe it would make more sense to go for the medium priced project, with a better shot of achieving it," he said. "Unfortunately, it's a bit like gambling."

He also speculated that the chances of getting the $2 million grant were low because the project is the subject of local controversy, and because the Liberal provincial government may want to spread the available funding among a large number of municipalities. He noted that Erin tends to support the Progressive Conservatives.

"Without sounding too political, we are in a chronically blue municipality, and it's not a blue government," he said.

Councillor Barb Tocher argued that the Hillsburgh project fits the grant criteria "perfectly", and she was supported by Councillor Deb Callaghan in opposing a motion to give the Cedar Valley bridge top priority. In a recorded vote, the motion was passed, with Councillors Jose Wintersinger and John Brennan and Mayor Maieron in favour.

The mayor also noted that while council approved temporary work to make the Hillsburgh dam safe for traffic, it has not decided what to do as a permanent solution. The Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR), in allowing the temporary work, ordered the town to upgrade the dam within two years.

"The opportunity for funding is putting the cart before the horse," he said.

Councillor Wintersinger was not optimistic about getting the $2 million grant, though she also believes the Town cannot afford to do the project itself.

"I know what the MNR said, but you can't get blood out of a stone," she said. "I would ride along and see what happens."

The smaller Cedar Valley project is still larger than the entire section of the town's 2012 capital budget that is funded by local taxes. If funded independently by the Town of Erin, it "would result in many critical capital projects being delayed for years," the report says.

The cost of the Hillsburgh project "would be almost five times as large as our entire 2012 tax funded capital budget, which of course is overwhelming."

While Cedar Valley requires a simple bridge replacement, the Hillsburgh project could include not only a new bridge, but reconstruction of the road eight metres wide, with curbs, gutters and storm sewers. The earthen dam would be upgraded to current engineering standards, and a sidewalk could be installed from Trafalgar Road to the Elora Cataract Trailway.

There could also be a water main and sanitary sewer pipe to serve future residential development.