Whitewater considers leasing former CN land for recreation

·6 min read

Whitewater Region – The township is moving ahead with a staff recommendation to investigate the purchase of land along the former CN railway within its boundaries and to lease one kilometre of land just on the other side of the inter-provincial bridge to Quebec. The investigation must be completed within 150 days.

The six-point staff recommendation approved at a recent council meeting includes:

1 – approve purchase of part of the former CN Beachburg Subdivision found in the township including the interprovincial crossing at a cost of just under $194,000;

2 – approve entering into a lease with CN Railway Company for vacant lands forming part of the CN Beachburg Subdivision of the Cadastre of Quebec, Registration Division of Pontiac, in order to facilitate the purchase by an appropriate party to ensure continuance of the municipal active transportation corridor from Hwy. 301 in Pontiac to Laurentian Valley Township;

3 – award WSP Canada just under $37,000 to inspect five bridges/trestles along this corridor;

4 – award a Phase I and II environmental site assessment for those lands in Quebec at a cost of $34,822 to Cambium;

5 – award a similar ESA for the lands in Ontario, including the interprovincial bridge for a further cost of $10,170; and

6 – delegate authority to the CAO to complete all due diligence as part of these transactions within the 90-day window and potential 60-day extension.

Councillor Daryl McLaughlin was the lone dissenter in a recorded vote requested by Councillor Dave Mackay.

The purchase is to ensure the continuance of the active transportation corridor within the township, explained Chief Administrative Officer Ivan Burton.

Treasurer Sean Crozier said the purchased lands total 320 acres within the township and a 100-year-lease on the Quebec lands just on the other side of the inter-provincial bridge, which spans the Ottawa River outside Foresters Falls.

There are five bridges along this corridor, with the inter-provincial structure being the longest at 480 metres, followed by the bridge over Broome’s Creek at 135 metres. The remaining three are each under 20 metres.

Mr. Crozier noted many hours of staff time have been spent in discussions with Laurentian Valley, legal counsel, active transportation partners within the municipality, insurance brokers, the County of Renfrew forest manager, and the director of corporate real estate with the City of Ottawa as to what is involved in taking care of these assets.

“The value of this asset is in excess of $1 million,” Mr. Crozier said.

The township has incurred about $20,000 in legal costs with another $30,000 to $40,000 to complete the transaction, he said.

The insurance to cover replacement costs of any of the bridges won’t be known until after the bridge assessments are completed, ne noted.

If council approves the purchase of the land, the next discussion during budget will be what is the service level of the corridor, he added.

Council then watched a video of the 35-kilometre long corridor, which included several photos of each of the bridges.

Mayor Mike Moore said the bridges are located over the Ottawa River (the interprovincial bridge); over Broome’s Creek; above Moxam Road near Howard Cemetery in Foresters Falls; the green painted bridge near Zion Line, and the bridge above McGonegal Road at the S curve.

Public works manager Lane Cleroux noted he, Mr. Burton and Mayor Moore toured the corridor with several volunteers.

But Coun. McLaughlin said he has struggled with the recommendation an awful lot and has a big question.

He said if the township purchases the interprovincial bridge and is not successful in leasing the Quebec lands, then the bridge then becomes a “great big liability.”

“I’m totally in favour of purchasing anything along the track from the Ottawa River to Laurentian Valley. I’ve no problem with that at all,” Coun. McLaughlin said. “I have a problem with the inter-provincial bridge.”

If Quebec agreed to purchase its share of the CN line, he would be fine with the recommendation, but if it doesn’t purchase the land, “we’re stuck with a bridge and a liability,” he said.

Mayor Moore noted while ATVs (All Terrain Vehicles) cannot travel into Quebec, snowmobilers, cyclists and walkers can do so.

“The intent right now is to get things started on the process and we still have opt-out times,” he said.

Mr. Burton stressed if council passes this recommendation, “the due diligence period will give staff time to look at the environmental assessments and the shape of the bridges.

“If the information warrants us withdrawing from the purchase of sale agreements, we can do that,” he said. “This is authorizing staff, or the CAO, to enter into a purchase agreement, but there is the 90 and 60 days due diligence clause.”

This recommendation provides clear direction to staff and if council has no interest in moving forward, then it can vote against the recommendation, Mr. Burton said.

When questioned by Councillor Neil Nicholson if there was a possibility of negotiating the position of either trail or bridge, Mr. Burton responded, “If we chose not to acquire the bridge, the concern raised is that they still own the bridge and abutments and we will need to access it.

“If we acquire everything to the bridge, how do people legally access the bridge from the Ontario side?”

However, if council would like that configuration, it would be very complex, but it may be easier if the township only purchased the lands to Acres Road, he said.

While the snowmobile and ATV clubs have maintained the corridor and some of the bridges, Mr. Cleroux said they are not able to own land.

Mr. Burton added the clubs have agreements with the landowner as to what maintenance can be done and whose insurance the volunteers are working under.

While Reeve Cathy Regier was concerned with the township purchasing a bridge that goes nowhere, she also questioned what the level of maintenance would be on the trail.

“Is it something we maintain and look after if we own it?” she questioned, “We don’t have the public works for that. I don’t even think we have the equipment for it.”

Coun. Mackay said the ATV and snowmobile clubs currently maintain it and that could continue, however, Mayor Moore said what agreements are in place is not known and won’t be unless the township purchases the trail.

Councillor Chris Olmstead said 150 days to gather the necessary information is plenty and suggested “we act on the (recommendation) as it is. We can find out a lot of information in that time. If it’s not the right thing to do, we can still opt out.”

Councillor Charlene Jackson agreed.

“This (recommendation) is just to proceed to the next step, not the final step of purchasing,” she said. “We’ve had this whole conversation a couple of times. It’s the same conversation each time. We either have to bite the bullet on this. Either we do it or not do it.

“Let’s bring it to a vote.”

Mr. Burton said the next discussion will be a closed session with council.

“The results of the report will help guide a decision,” he said. “We still have the clause to opt out of the purchase and sale subject to our lawyer’s review.”

Connie Tabbert, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader