August 14, 2013

Town must decide soon on Station Road project

As published in The Erin Advocate

The Town of Erin is risking a fine of up to $1 million from the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) if it does not act quickly to make a decision on rebuilding the Station Road bridge and repairing the dam.

The project itself would cost over $2 million, even if the Hillsburgh mill pond is allowed to drain and return to its natural state, according to a recent report to Town Council from Road Superintendent Larry Van Wyck.

“The permanent solution will require the existing dam either be upgraded to current engineering standards or decommissioned,” he said.

The full upgrading is estimated to cost $2.44 million, while decommissioning (including environmental assessment of sediment issues), would cost $2.15 million.

The bulk of the cost in each case is to rebuild the narrow road, including water and sewer lines, and the 96-year-old bridge, which was identified as in need of replacement as early as 1973.

Rehabilitating the earthen dam, while continuing to ignore the bridge and road, was not one of the options analyzed.

Emergency work was done last year to shore up the deteriorating dam, to make the road safe for traffic, but the MNR gave council two years to come up with a long-term proposal:

“Application for the permanent works must be made immediately following completion of any required environmental assessment, and prior to June 1, 2014.”

Even if council decided right now what they want to do, they would still have to hire a consultant to do the environmental assessment and hold public meetings and have a final plan ready in 10 months. That is practically impossible, but they could get started.

Apart from a possible fine, the MNR could issue a mandatory order for repairs, or complete the work itself and collect the money from the Town.

The Town held a public meeting last winter, at which some residents were angry that the Town would consider getting rid of the pond. Others said it was not worth the cost to preserve it.

Last month, council appointed citizen members to the Mill Pond Ad Hoc Committee. This group may be able to provide knowledgeable advice to council, but it is only advice. Council must consider the financial impact on taxpayers throughout the Town.

It would be ideal to keep the mill pond in place if it can be done at reasonable cost, since it is part of our heritage and has a valuable ecosystem.

On the other hand, it is a man-made device, created for industrial purposes that have long ago disappeared. Can we afford to preserve it forever?

A better case for preservation could be made if the public could actually enjoy the pond, by means of parkland and trails in the area, but it is surrounded by private lands. Van Wyck warned that the Town could face legal problems if property owners claim that their rights have been violated by any changes.

One possibility that has been discussed is to lower the level of the pond, though this is also a potential legal problem since the control structure is privately owned. Lowering the water could reduce the risk of a dam failure and flood damage downstream during a storm, and reduce the engineering requirements and costs for upgrading.

If council elects to close the road and do nothing with the dam, abandoning the bridge and leaving dead end roadway on either side of it, the MNR would likely order repair work to be done, said Van Wyck. The “do nothing” option would not deal with the possibility of dam failure and would add significantly to the fire department’s response time to homes on the west side of the bridge.

Van Wyck’s full report, including photos, maps and cost charts, can be downloaded at as part of the July 16 agenda package, starting at page 67.

Mayor Lou Maieron has briefly suggested the possibility of closing off Station Road at the dam, and building a new alternative road from Trafalgar to the western portion of Station Road, along the route of the Elora-Cataract Trailway (owned by Credit Valley Conservation).

I will be interested in more details when the mayor has an opportunity to present them, but the idea does not look promising at this point. It would provide access to the west, but the Town would still have to deal with safety issues at the dam, and could be left with an unsightly abandoned bridge.

It would likely cost more than the other plans, since the Town would have to build an even longer section of new road running parallel to the trail. It would also have to build a brand new bridge just 350 metres downstream of the existing one, the site of the old railroad trestle bridge.

Council will have a difficult financial decision to make, since the cost of this project could force the deferral of various other important projects. The issue is not so much whether the pond is preserved, but whether replacement of the Station Road bridge will finally rise to the top of the priority list after being deferred for 40 years.