Hinton’s residents could soon be accessing the Maxwell Lake bridge via approaches connecting the boardwalk and bridge on the north, south, and west sides. No additional modifications will be made to the bridge structure or elevation.
Council voted to keep the bridge crossing in Maxwell Lake during the regular council meeting on Aug. 24, and made further direction to limit plaza features proposed by administration.
“This assures the longest longevity at the cheapest cost at the most certainty. I do understand that it’s not the absolute most beautiful bridge in the history of the world, but it’s quite serviceable,” said Coun. Dewly Nelson. “As difficult as this process has been, I do feel that this is the most sensible solution.”
Following permits and approvals that could take up to a year, the construction is estimated to take only one to two weeks. The bridge will have boardwalk approaches of 1.8 metres to accommodate two people walking or two wheelchairs. The plaza area proposed on the east side would not be required for connectivity, which will not be included as per council’s request, but the plaza area on the west side would have to be there to achieve connectivity.
This option has the least environmental impact of all five options presented to council, with no disturbance to the main channel and only minor disturbance to the adjacent wetland areas, according to administration. The wetland permits and application documents by Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) will dictate the mitigation measures required for compliance.
Coun. Albert Ostashek noted that many citizens don’t like the bridge and he agrees, but that due to prior decisions and actions council has an obligation to make the most of what they have. He believes moving forward with the bridge and connectivity ramps is the best way to accomplish that.
“The whole Maxwell Lake bridge, all the way to the start when it was first presented to council, can be a learning lesson for council and administration that when an infrastructure project is proposed in an area that’s heavily used and looked upon as highly as it is by our citizens, and where citizens are as invested as they are, it bears a little bit more public consultation, a little bit more discussion, a little bit more feedback than just a line item in a budget,” Ostashek said.
Coun. Trevor Haas disagreed with the decision to keep the bridge. He felt this was council’s opportunity to make it right and that they had a chance to make a change.
Through the ICIP – COVID-19 resilience stream grant, $251,000 was approved to support this project.
Diana Daley-Beckford, Hinton’s capital planning projects manager, explained that the removal of the bridge from Maxwell Lake would be covered by the grant but if council were to replace the bridge or change the scope of the project, a review would be required in order to receive the grant.
Haas said he was initially unsure about removing the bridge, but with confirmation that the grant would cover removal, removing the bridge became a consideration.
Mayor Marcel Michaels asked if they could simply remove the bridge and build a north to south boardwalk in the area.
Administration explained that this is possible but it would have similar issues as the previous foot bridge that was often below water or inaccessible due to debris blocking the bridge.
Daley-Beckford explained that the current bridge is high enough to accommodate a high water table and the debris that could potentially float underneath.
Winston Rossouw, director of development and infrastructure, explained that if council chose to remove the bridge the best option was to put the structure up for sale through a tender process or based on market value.
Nelson pointed out that while a $400,000 price tag is often attached to the bridge project, the bridge and its installation actually cost $111,000. He said they would not be getting that price back when selling the used bridge and are spending money to get it out. Ostashek added that bridges are usually application-specific and was concerned that it would be a tough sell.
“My big concern is that if we give administration the go-ahead to take the bridge out and come up with an alternative, that the bridge winds up being sold for scrap steel prices,” Ostashek said.
Rossouw noted that replacing the bridge would cost approximately $115,000 to $120,000, on top of the cost of removing the bridge, which is quoted at $33,000. This does not include boardwalk connectivity and the cost of AEP approvals.
Haas suggested not replacing the bridge with anything and eliminating the need for a bridge by utilizing the existing boardwalk. Ostashek responded that people appreciate the crossing in the area, especially mountain bikers accessing the mountain bike trails on the south of the lake.
“Even just removing the bridge and not having a bridge there at all is significantly more [in costs] than making responsible use of the bridge that’s currently there and adding connectivity,” said Ostashek.
In terms of minimizing environmental impact and responsible use of taxpayer dollars, Ostashek said the option to keep the bridge with a limited viewing pad was best.
Michaels also had reservations about keeping the bridge and preferred removing and replacing the bridge if it could be done within the budget of the grant. Rossouw felt that the full scope of what Michaels was looking for would be possible within the grant budget, which Michaels said was his justification to vote to remove the bridge. Both Nelson and Ostashek noted that removing and replacing the boardwalk would come with additional costs to connect the boardwalk, additional risk, additional time to get AEP approvals, and additional trauma to the wetland.
“This bridge will be there for the next 50 years or longer, we have an opportunity and it’s a huge band aid to rip off and it’s difficult but to me there is a reasonable solution of minimizing something that just is going to be a topic of conversation for the next generation, and the following generation will be discussing this bridge,” Michaels said.
Maguhn felt this was an opportunity for the advisory committee, made up of community members that have demonstrated an interest in the Maxwell Lake area and the Beaver Boardwalk, to provide some feedback.
“The community has asked this council to decide what we’re going to do with this area, so I feel it is our responsibility at this time to make a decision on the future of that particular item, which is the bridge,” Haas said.
The grant funding for this project was extended to two years, with the terms of funding requiring that construction start no later than Sept. 30, 2023, and that projects must be completed by Dec. 31, 2023.
Masha Scheele, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hinton Voice