LITTLE CURRENT – As council met for its first meeting of August at its downtown Little Current chambers with a view of the swing bridge, the first order of the day was that iconic piece of machinery bridging the mainland to Manitoulin Island.
Mayor Al MacNevin began by noting the community consultation held at the Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre last month and reminded council that one year earlier, council had asked the swing bridge study engineers to keep in mind the impact a new bridge would have to businesses and residents of the Northeast Town.
The mayor encouraged council to come together and choose one of the options outlined in the study and make a recommendation to the engineers. The mayor explained that options No. 1 (a movable bridge at the far west side of Goat Island, entering Little Current near the former Kool-It Ice Building) and No. 7 (a fixed bridge/tunnel on the far east side of Goat Island that would bypass Little Current completely) were removed entirely from the equation.
Option No. 3, do nothing, was also struck from the list.
“I was told that No. 3, do nothing, would not be suitable as they (engineers) were tasked with finding an option to the tune of over $2 million,” the mayor added.
Options 2 and 4 are movable bridges (lift, bascule or swing) located near where the current swing bridge stands while option 5 and 6 (fixed bridge or tunnel) would mean disruption to the residential area found at the end of Harbour View Road.
“Minimization is best,” said Councillor Barb Baker, “so No. 2 would be best.” Councillor Baker also voiced her concerns with a fixed bridge as it could mean closure in high winds or snowy conditions.
Option 2 would be located just west of the swing bridge and land on the Island at the park area located between the bridge and the Welcome Centre.
Councillor Al Boyd said he had a chance to listen to residents and business owners during the public information session at the hotel and said option 5 and 6 were of major concern.
“One business owner noted that he employs 40 people in the summer months,” Councillor Boyd continued, agreeing with Councillor Baker that a swing or bascule bridge would be better than a fixed one.
“The maximum height for a lift bridge is 36 metres which would preclude some ships from coming through,” he said. He also noted the concern of the people who live along the waterfront and whose homes would impede a new bridge build.
Councillor Michael Erskine agreed that option 2 in a bascule format was his preferred choice. “It would be great to have a swing bridge, but I just don’t see that happening.”
Councillor Bill Koehler and Dawn Orr also picked No. 2.
Councillor Boyd recalled the days of the silver bridge linking Goat Island to LaCloche and the many times the Ontario Provincial Police had to close it due to high west winds causing poor visibility in the winter months. He worried a fixed bridge would have the same result.
“From a Ward 1 perspective, taxpayers don’t like coming here because the bridge traffic is a deterrent,” said Ward 1 Councillor Laurie Cook. “Let’s build something for the next 100 years that will allow that tax base to access the services they pay for.”
The mayor noted that he has fielded many phone calls and emails over the past few weeks.
He said he agrees that option 2 is the best to avoid expropriation. “We’ve got the whole Island chipping into a tourist centre that would be bypassed. Landowners are stressed about that.”
A motion was made to recommend option two in a bascule format to the engineers.
Councillor Boyd suggested that, when the new bridge is built, moving the Welcome Centre to Goat Island and having the swing bridge placed on the land there as a tourist attraction.
The mayor said that is not council’s current position. “We’ve got a pretty good setup now. If we’re looking at building a new one (Welcome Centre), we’d need some good reasons.”
The mayor told council he’s been quoted a couple of times as saying he’s in favour of keeping the current bridge.
“If it’s true it has to be replaced that’s fine, but does it?” Mayor MacNevin queried. “We have a bridge that’s lasted over 100 years with really minimal problems. They say the bridge has cost $10 million, but when you factor that over 100 years, it isn’t that much. Show me that it has to be replaced.”