Nipissing Township residents at odds with municipal leaders over potholed road

·7 min read

Nipissing Township residents with homes on Alsace Boundary Road are upset with their town council for turning part of the road, which has been hard surfaced since 1984, into a gravel state by pulverizing it which the homeowners claim creates dangerous driving conditions.

What's more, the property owners will likely have to live with the present circumstances for an indefinite period.

That's because the road is a shared service between the Municipality of Powassan and Nipissing Township and under it, before any road work or capital improvements are done, both town councils have to agree to the projects in writing.

The problem for the Alsace Boundary Road homeowners is that while Nipissing has the money for the road's future work, Powassan doesn't.

The issue began June 16th, 2022 when members of both municipalities met to discuss the condition of the road.

According to Codey Munshaw, Powassan's Director of Public Works and Engineering, in that meeting Nipissing gave Powassan a letter requesting that Alsace Boundary Road be pulverized in 2022. The letter states that part of the road coming off Highway 534 could no longer be repaired effectively because of significant deterioration and that it was damaging the Township's road maintenance equipment during winter operations.

Nipissing recommended returning two kilometres of the road to a gravel state by pulverizing it and grading it as needed until it could be rehabilitated during 2023. The cost to pulverize the road was $10,000 and under the shared services agreement, each municipality would pay their half.

On June 30th Munshaw wrote a memo to Powassan town council recommending that it cover its share of the pulverization up to $5,000 which council agreed to at its July 5th regular meeting. Although the Nipissing Township letter outlines the pulverization during 2022 and rehabilitation for 2023, Munshaw's memo only addresses the 2022 work with no mention of how Powassan would be involved in the road's future rehabilitation.

The road was pulverized during the first week of August and this set the stage for a confrontational meeting of the Alsace Boundary Road residents with their town council on March 21st.

About 50 residents represented by homeowner Rod Rennette led the delegation. Rennette told council that just three weeks after the pulverization, Alsace Boundary Road had become rippled, a road condition known as washboarding and is caused by motor vehicles driving over it. Rennette told council the washboarding was “extreme”, the road was consistently dusty and cars and trucks driving over it resulted in “stones flying off tires”. Rennette added that a thaw and rainfall during the winter left the road populated with “many potholes”.

Rennette said Alsace Boundary Road is the second busiest among Concession roadways in Nipissing Township with ten times more traffic than it used to have and yet the town council regressed it to a state that hadn't existed since the 1970s. He said the road had become an embarrassment and liability issue for the municipality and “it's an accident looking for someplace to happen”.

Rennette said last August and September he asked Nipissing council members if they knew Powassan would not be able to help pay to rehabilitate the road before it was pulverized and he said Nipissing council knew this. There was no denial on the council's part when Rennette made this statement.

Nipissing Mayor Tom Piper told the delegation that the municipality remained hopeful that the road could still be rehabilitated this year.

Piper said on January 12th he met with Powassan Mayor Peter McIsaac plus staff where he asked for a commitment from Powassan about road and bridge work projects. However, Piper told the delegation that on February 21st Nipissing got an email from Powassan stating the municipality would not be pursuing the 2023 projects.

“So Powassan turned us down,” Piper said.

Piper rejected a suggestion that Nipissing carry out all of the rehabilitation at its expense because that would result in a tax levy increase of 18.18 percent. Piper said this cost could not be justified because the Township “answers to all (1,769) residents”.

As an alternative Piper and council agreed the best option for now was for the township to fully pay to grade the road this year as needed and apply calcium to keep the dust down which would result in an extra two percent tax increase. Piper said it was easier to sell a two percent tax increase to all residents compared to an 18 percent increase.

That angered several of the residents with some saying the road is now in a worse state than before the pulverization.

Piper said he knew the residents were unhappy as matters stand but repeated his position that unless Powassan ante up its share there was no way Nipissing could take on the project on its own without an 18 percent tax levy increase.

Councillors Dave Yemm and Stephen Kirkey suggested the residents go to a Powassan council meeting to state their concerns and that's what they did on April 4th with about 25 of them inside the council chambers.

The delegation was now led by Alsace Boundary Road resident Joseph Bell.

“I and the people deserve a commitment on when Powassan will cover their portion of the costs to return the road to the condition it was in prior to being pulverized,” Bell said.

Bell also said the decision to pulverize the road in the first place was one that should never have been made until a “definitive plan was in place to complete the hard surfacing”.

“We all deserve your commitment to hard surface this road that was already hard surfaced for so many years,” Bell said.

While Bell acknowledged motorists should drive according to the conditions, those conditions now include “avoiding potholes (and) going over a loose surface” and he added it's just “a matter of when a serious accident or worse is going to occur” on a road the residents consider unsafe.

Powassan has been carrying a heavy debt and without going into detail, Mayor Peter McIsaac said “our financial situation is pretty tight and in 2023 we will not have the money to resurface that portion of the road”.

McIsaac didn't get into why the municipality helped Nipissing pulverize the road in the first place. But he answered a question from resident Shawn Mills who wanted to know if Nipissing already knew Powassan would not be able to help resurface the road when Nipissing was considering the pulverization option.

In response McIsaac said that in meetings prior to the road being pulverized, Nipissing was aware “of our financial situation that we're in right now”.

In response to other questions, McIsaac said the municipality was not able to borrow money to cover its half of the resurfacing cost nor was it in a position to pay Nipissing back in the future with interest if the township resurfaced the road 100 per cent at its expense because it meant more debt for Powassan. McIsaac said the previous council was surprised to learn about the large debt and a priority for this council was to pay down that debt as much as possible in this term.

The estimated cost to resurface Alsace Boundary Road is between $450,000 to $470,000 and that amount would be cost shared by the municipalities.

Although Powassan council did not indicate when it will be in a position to partner with Nipissing in the hard surfacing project, Powassan Councillor Dave Britton suggested staff and both public works departments work on a plan to grade and apply calcium to the road to at least get through this year.

The Nugget met with Bell who believes the regular grading and calcium applications will cost a lot of money in the long run. He said Nipissing Township applied gravel to the road and graded it three times following his complaint to the township about the potholes on March 31st. Bell said although the gravel fills the potholes, they're back after rain washes the gravel away.

He told the Nugget he didn't move to Alsace Boundary Road three years ago to have his Dodge Ram truck get hammered by continuously hitting potholes. Bell said he and his neighbours deserve better from the municipal leaders.

Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative, The North Bay Nugget