Northeast Town mayor seeks more details on why swing bridge deemed at ‘end of life’

Little Current swing bridge

LITTLE CURRENT—Northeast Town Mayor Al MacNevin has some concerns with the swing bridge study, commissioned by the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) and currently underway by engineering firm Stantec. It’s Mayor MacNevin’s belief that not all the information on the current state of the iconic bridge is being divulged, and he’d like some answers.

“There must be something more than just wedges,” Mayor MacNevin said in a Friday interview with The Expositor, referencing last year’s breakdown of the bridge, which the MTO cited was a result of defunct bridge ‘wedges,’ which help the structure swing.

The mayor said he’s heard off-hand from more than one source that there are “serious issues” with the bridge’s foundation.

Mayor MacNevin said his natural inclination is to lobby to save the over century-old bridge and for the MTO to fix it, but his mind could change if he learns that there is more to it than just ‘wedges.’

“My immediate reaction is to keep it, for a whole pile of reasons,” he added. “First, it’s part of the identity of Manitoulin, not just Little Current. The whole Island either loves it or hates it. It’s like talking about the weather. Without it, what does that to the fundamental character of Manitoulin?”

“It’s our Big Nickel,” this reporter commented. “That’s right, it’s our Big Nickel,” the mayor agreed.

Stantec will be making a presentation to the Northeast Town council next month. During the last meeting of council there was some discussion about coming up with an official position before that meeting, or at the very least holding a meeting to discuss the bridge.

“From my perspective, when there’s a real split (as he suspects there might be with his council) we need to have a conversation about the pros and cons,” the mayor continued. “If it’s a safety issue, that’s a different story; if it’s just about the timing (every hour closures) or having only a single lane, well that’s a different conversation.”

From a Northeast Town perspective, Mayor MacNevin has concerns that should a new bridge be built, and undoubtedly at a new location, what this would mean for the roads infrastructure and, most importantly, the impact on businesses. “It would be interesting having a welcome centre that’s not on the right road, and even the new hotel and Rob Sheppard’s property (the real estate purchased from the municipality by Rob Sheppard for business development)—those are big investments.”

Mayor MacNevin said he also has concerns over the bridge’s importance to the boating community and, with a year-round Manitoulin Island population of just 13,000, the government may think twice about spending millions on a bridge that accommodates boating traffic.

“There is a risk that they’ll only focus on land traffic,” he said.

The mayor said he will be noting a study that is currently underway about increasing cruise ship traffic to Great Lakes ports to the Stantec engineers when they visit next month. The results of that study will be released this fall.

The MTO/Stantec study points to addressing the “need and justification” for the study to determine the next steps for the swing bridge and the mayor said he hopes that they do just that, and first thing.

“I’m not naïve enough to say the bridge will be there forever, but I want justification,” he added.