Deep concerns at council’s ‘Big Dig’ meeting in Mount Forest

It was a full house at the Mount Forest fire hall’s community room for a meeting about the “Big Dig” along the main street of town.

The project stretches from Birmingham to Queen Streets (Highway 89), and roads and sidewalks will be replaced over the next year or two. While no one questioned the need for the project, many had concerns regarding its impact on businesses and tenants.

Mayor Mike Broomhead was pleased to see main street businesses represented in the audience.

In his update, Works Super­intendent Gary Williamson said when the repairs were brought up at a public meeting in March 2007, funding had not been approved. The township reapplied in November and in March, it got $1.7-million for the connecting link project.

That amounts to 90% of the costs for the roadwork portion of reconstruction of the highway, but that is only part of the work required. The project includes replacing sidewalks, water lines, storm and sanitary sewers, and gas lines – all the services under Main Street.

After the 2007 meeting, engineers at B.M. Ross tried to address the issue of roof runoff into sanitary sewers. William­son said that while in the past buildings had combination storm and sanitary sewer outlets, “It is illegal.”

This project can solve that issue. Testing confirmed 15 buildings in the three blocks have storm water outlets connected with the sanitary sewers.

While building owners will not incur extra costs to separate service outlets, there will be costs if the owner wants upgraded services such as larger water line connections. As well, it is up to building owners to separate sanitary and sewer lines within the confines of their buildings.

That could cost between $3,000 and $5,000 depending on the height of the building, Williamson said. He pointed out that one plumber will be contracted to do all the connections, and the work will be coordinated through the project contractor.

Williamson said there were a number of buildings the muni­cipality  that did not have access, so the number requiring additional work still needs to be confirmed.

He added that work on the streetscape project still needs to be completed.

One concern will be the detour routes for traffic. While the intent is to provide close access for residential traffic – the routes still need to be ap­proved by the Ministry of Transportation. As for truck traffic, arrangements will need to be worked out to provide access for store deliveries.

One of the other main issues to be dealt with is the reconstruction of the intersection of Highways 6 and 89. A new right turn lane will be included in the northbound lane of Highway 6.

One idea being considered is the elimination of the “bubbles” to potentially allow for the creation of left hand turning lanes downtown.

“At the end of the day, even once the municipality finalizes its plans, it still must get MTO approval. If they do not accept it, we must change it until they do,” Williamson  said.

Until that happens, the project cannot be sent out for tender. Williamson is hopeful to have tenders out by the end of May. He anticipates work will not start until after the Mount Forest Fireworks Festival in July.

“Who gets the contract will make the difference as to when the works starts,” he said.

The other issue is work must start at the intersection of Main and Wellington Streets be­cause the major services run to that point. Because of the current servicing layout, re­placement of the services should not interrupt existing services.

Once the contract is tendered, Williamson said another public meeting would be held. Most likely, that will be around the end of June.

He also anticipated the project will be done over a two years, and completed in 2009.

The Mount Forest BIA has retained a landscape designer Sean Kelly, of Stempski Kelly As­sociates, to consider landscaping and what the main street will look like.

Kelly said, “It is the first impression; we want to make sure it gets done right.”

President of the Mount Forest Chamber of Commerce Ron Forrest spoke on plans to use the project as a promotion to bring people to town and to direct them to local businesses.

“The Big Dig will upset a lot of people – but it has to happen,” he said. “At the end of it we will all be further ahead.”

Broomhead said there are still a lot of unknowns. While critics may consider it a costly project, he believes it would be more costly to do nothing.

“People have said they want the township to expand and grow. The Big Dig is part of that.”

He said simply being able to divert storm water from sanitary sewers on the main street will save the unnecessary treatment of stormwater at the sewage treatment plant – which, in turn, will open the door for more potential development.

Questions were more about the impact to local businesses and tenants than the need of the project. Council was also questioned why more information is not available since it knew about the project last year.

Broomhead said while some work can  be done ahead of time, much has to wait until the MTO approves funding.

Until then, the tenders cannot be let. “We have to follow their rules.”

Williamson added, “At the end of the day, it is an MTO contract.” The township is be­ing allowed to do the additional work at the same time.

John Roberts asked why it has to be done over two years.

Williamson said it depends on the contractor and there is a possibility it could be completed this fall. However, whatever part of the job is completed this fall, he said the road will be open for travel this winter, even if additional work is required in 2009.

Brian Plume wondered if the Fireworks Festival could be moved to allow construction to begin earlier. Williamson doub­t­ed work can begin that early.

Business owners like Penny Potts are concerned about businesses like hers, where the only access is the main street. “No one wants to carry deliveries or packages over three blocks.”

She asked if there will be designated parking elsewhere for businesses losing access.

Williamson expected the answer was no. He added that currently the municipal lots are no more than half full.

Broomhead said that it is unlikely the entire three block section would be under construction at the same time. He said the plan is for weekly site meetings with business owners who will be affected – to let them know what plans are.

Williamson added one of the reasons behind the proposed detours is to keep customers as close to the downtown as possible.

Forrest said there is a committee considering signs and a guide to businesses.

Doug Jamieson, of the Village Bakery, questioned the proposed costs of the upgrades compared to the size of the Mount Forest BIA’s current membership. He believed any decision on paying such costs should be a decision of the membership, not the executive.

Broomhead said that is an issue for the BIA to deal with.

Councillor Dan Yake ex­plained the BIA costs are for upgrades, not needed work. He used the example of the township being responsible to provide streetlighting – but the BIA might pick up the costs of special fixtures or brackets to hold promotional banners.

Jeannette Jamieson contended is seems easy for discussions to be made then leave the BIA with the bill. She believes by now everyone should have had a better idea of the final costs.

She said she did not believe the BIA should be responsible for the cost of fixtures for a normal main street.

Broomhead again pointed out any BIA costs are related to upgrades. “To be fair, it is not up to us to tell the BIA what to do.”

As for access during construction, Williamson  said part of the contract will include stipulations that whoever does the work must provide reasonable access.

Potts noted her understanding is that it is an MTO contract, and the township is doing the repairs it requires.

My understanding, she said, it the BIA involvement is about putting in nicer fixtures, “there­fore the BIA has control [of those costs].”

Williamson said the project needs to be done. “There is going to be some pain and frustration.”

Forrest suggested the cost  is potentially a lot more if nothing is done. He has heard rumours of cavities beneath the main street that are eight to ten feet deep. He said if a portion of the street was to cave in, the costs would be enormous.

Williamson agreed.

He pointed out the MTO is providing 90% funding. He added the MTO pays only for construction, not maintenance.

“And with changing funding formulas, this may not be available next year.”

“We are taking this opportunity to fix what is under the street.”