CENTRE WELLINGTON – Centre Wellington council chose not to designate two bridges as heritage sites meaning they are not protected from demolition and will likely be replaced in the coming future.
Bridge 24-WG, constructed in 1922, is located on First Line between Sideroad 10 and Sideroad 15 in the rural area to the north of Fergus. Bridge 24-WG was closed to vehicle traffic in July 2018 due to structural concerns.
Bridge 4-WG, on Fifth Line between Wellington Road 18 and Eramosa-West Garafraxa Townline south of Belwood Lake, was built in 1923. The bridge has had a weight limit of 5-tonnes since 2016.
A Municipal Class Environmental Assessment declared both bridges to be in poor condition with many deficiencies and at the end of its useful service life.
“These bridges have been on our priority 10-year capital plan to be replaced for many years now,” Mayor Kelly Linton said in a follow-up email. “Not designating them gives us the ability to demolish them and replace them with safe bridges that meet modern transportation requirements.”
A report shows that council had endorsed replacing the bridges at a meeting last December. However, Centre Wellington’s heritage committee recommended both bridges be designated as heritage sites at a February meeting.
In a phone call, councillor Bob Foster said he found this whole process to be backwards and contrary to the heritage act.
“Our own heritage committee voted to designate that bridge,” Foster said. “That was not forthcoming to council. That information was withheld and that’s a serious matter.”
He explained that Italian immigrant Charles Mattaini had built nearly 70 bridges, including the ones being discussed, in the county. Foster said they should be trying to preserve the few that remain.
“What’s at stake here is a heritage structure,” Foster said. “There’s only about 19 or 20 left, so we’ve already lost two-thirds of them. It’s important to preserve the remaining ones.”
At council, arguments for not designating the bridges included the cost of fixing over replacing and meeting the needs of farmers’ modern equipment.
Councillor Ian MacRae said at the meeting that these rural bridges designed decades ago can’t account for the larger equipment farmers have.
Foster called this a bogus argument and unnecessary comparison.
“The farming and the heritage are two whole and seperate things, you can’t use one against the other in my view,” Foster said, adding that he does understand the needs of farmers. “You’re using two things that have no connection to justify the other. You can’t usurp the heritage act because of farmers.”
Managing director of infrastructure Colin Baker said to council replacing both bridges would cost approximately $4.6 million while maintaining the bridges as they are would cost $12.4 million.
“While heritage is important to us, supporting our local farmers and being stewards of taxpayer’s dollars is more important in this instance,” Linton said.
Foster said cost can’t factor into heritage matters.
“You can not use the cost of rehabilitation of a heritage structure as a rationale to demolish it,” Foster said. “So the mayor speaking about cost and the taxpayer is not appropriate.”
Foster also brought up the fact that councillor Steven VanLeeuwen’s business and home are near Bridge 4-WG.
VanLeeuwen owns A.S.E. Equipment which is located at the corner of Wellington Road 18 and Fifth Line near the bridge.
When Foster brought this up at council, the mayor called it out of order. At council VanLeeuwen stressed that he has no conflict of interest in this matter. He said the bridge has no impact on his business as he is located on the highway.
“This bridge is on a sideroad that is not touching my property, my customers don’t take it to my property,” VanLeeuwen said at council. “No one actually travels this road for the purpose of my home, my house nor would I have any financial implications if this bridge was brand new, huge or not there at all.”
Foster said VanLeeuwen should have declared a conflict of interest from the beginning.
“What’s noteworthy here is he voted on a bridge and his property is roughly adjacent to that bridge,” Foster said. “It’s up to him to declare it, but he didn’t.”
Mayor Linton, MacRae, Neil Dunsmore and VanLeeuwen voted against the heritage designation and therefore passing.
Linton said the next steps for replacing the bridge is the design and tendering process.
“With these bridges being rebuilt, the township remains on track to rebuild 21 bridges in eight years,” Linton said. “Compare this to five bridges rebuilt in the prior eight years. Rebuilding our transportation network remains a priority even during this COVID-19 pandemic.”