Riversdale bridge closure severs the community

·4 min read

RIVERSDALE – The municipality calls it “Greenock Structure No. 0002.” The community calls it something else – a key connection for generations of friends and neighbours, a local landmark, and their recreation centre.

The young guys buying a new car will take a picture of it on the Riversdale bridge – even the OPP posed for a picture on it; snowmobiles have used it as a major route across the Teeswater River; and people fish from it, walk across it and use it as an alternate route to and from Walkerton when Highway 9 is closed, which happens quite often in the winter.

Mostly, though, they view it as the structure that holds their community together. Without it, the 18 households on Con. 2 are a 14-kilometre drive from the 35 or so households in the village that are within shouting distance.

On a warm November morning, a group of people got together in Wendy and Al Lamont’s dining room to discuss “their” bridge. The group included David German, who owns property in the area, and Melissa Lamont.

They were preparing for Monday night’s Zoom meeting on the bridge, which has been closed June 1 by the municipality since the bridge was deemed unsafe due to its deteriorated condition.

What they want, said Wendy, is a way to maintain the community connection that’s so important to them. If the present bridge can’t be repaired and maintained, they’d be happy with a one-lane bailey bridge (“we could be a pilot project,” said Wendy), or a wooden bridge (similar to what’s been looked at and used in other communities including Grey County).

But they want something.

“We don’t have an arena, or hiking trails, or nice aluminum fish. Melissa doesn’t even have garbage pick-up. What we have is the bridge,” said Wendy. “Closing the bridge severs the community.”

The group drew attention to some safety issues caused by the bridge closure. In one situation, an OPP officer started directing traffic toward the bridge after a collision closed part of Highway 9. Local residents told the officer the bridge had been closed.

More alarming was a recent ambulance call to a home on Con. 2 where a person was very ill. The ambulance had clearly been directed to use the bridge, and was spotted in the village for several minutes, delayed in getting to its destination. “The ambulance people didn’t know where to go,” said Wendy.

People in the area had been told EMS, fire and police had been notified of the bridge closure, and, in Wendy’s words, “were OK with it.”

She said she doesn’t even want to think about what’s going to happen when snowmobile season arrives. Crossing the river would be a major safety concern.

The bridge is well used, winter and summer, according to the group. Al gathered 198 signatures from people within a five-mile radius. Heavy farm machinery doesn’t use the bridge, but there’s a steady stream of walkers – people pushing strollers, kids on bikes, little children walking with parents.

German noted that although the bridge was determined to be in poor condition, a 35-tonne grader used it three days before the bridge was closed. And Al commented that all the local road grading was done just before the closure.

The group feels shortchanged by the municipal amalgamation that was forced on them 20 years ago. “They’ve had 20 years to catch up … and maintain the infrastructure,” said German. But that hasn’t happened.

“They can’t take all the bridges out,” Melissa said.

Wendy noted Bruce County is expanding in population. The bridges that allowed communities to establish themselves and grow 100 years ago will be needed.

And if South Bruce gets the DGR, the population will grow even faster.

This is the second bridge in the immediate area that’s been closed. The road to the old Zion bridge that once provided a direct route for travellers has deteriorated into a garbage-strewn, unmaintained track. The group fears the same thing will happen again – there’s already a pile of debris dumped at the base of a “no dumping” sign.

“It could be your bridge next,” Wendy warns.

The municipality is presently looking at a number of options for the bridge including repair, replacement and demolition. A number of studies have been done on the bridge.

Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times