FERGUS – Jean Gerrard has filed a Part II Order request with the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks to put the brakes – at least temporarily – on the demolition of two historic bridges in Centre Wellington.
She wants the ministry to examine the process behind township council’s decision on June 29 to demolish bridges 24WG and 4WG, located on the 1st Line and 5th Line, respectively.
Gerrard is a member of Heritage Centre Wellington, a volunteer advisory committee whose task is to research and examine heritage buildings and structures in the township when matters of demolition, renovation, alteration, restoration and major repairs come before council.
It is the committee’s job to make recommendations to council on the heritage value of these structures, and consultation with a heritage advisory committee is a mandatory part of the Class Environmental Assessment process.
While Gerrard spoke to council on June 29 on behalf of the chair of the heritage committee, she filed the order request in February as a private citizen.
In an interview on July 16, Gerrard said the proper process was not followed, as the heritage committee did not have the opportunity to discuss the bridges at either of two meetings on the topic.
She added the committee’s rushed decision to recommend heritage designation before June 29 was a last-ditch effort to return to the proper process, she contends.
“They could have deferred the decision and sent it back to heritage for a proper review,” she said.
“Council chose to ignore us.”
Part II of the Environmental Assessment Act allows individuals or organizations to request that the minister take a closer look at an application and the supporting documentation.
Upon examination, the minister could order a full environmental assessment or to just fix sections of the process.
“The issue here is process,” Gerrard said.
She said the matter first came to the heritage committee in November as an information item.
As the report contained information about the costs of rehabilitating and replacing the bridges – and the committee does not consider costs when making heritage recommendations – the committee asked staff to amend the report and bring it back for consideration.
But in December 2019, council endorsed replacing the bridges “without knowing the heritage committee’s views,” Gerrard said.
The amended report came back to the committee in February 2020, but it too appeared as an information item.
“There was no opportunity to discuss or consult,” she said.
And as the committee realized the decision to demolish had already been made, “the only option was for us to designate them as heritage structures.
“We did that to bring it to council’s attention that they had made a mistake.”
Steven VanLeeuwen, the township councillor who sits on the heritage committee, said that’s not his impression of events.
A consultant’s report on the bridges did come to the committee in November, VanLeeuwen agreed, and it did contain a recommendation to demolish and rebuild based on the cost of rehabilitation and the poor state of the bridges.
The committee did not offer an opinion at that time.
When the matter came to council in December, it was without a recommendation from the heritage committee.
“Council had a fulsome discussion on the heritage aspect of the bridges, however,” VanLeeuwen said in an interview on July 29.
“I brought up the concerns of the committee and that they are unique bridges. Council decided to demolish.”
VanLeeuwen said he encouraged the committee, at its February meeting, to bring the matter back to council if they wanted to make a recommendation on the bridges.
That is what happened at the June 29 meeting.
“I’m the liaison on the committee and I told them, ‘I’m not voting for it here and against it at council,'” VanLeeuwen said.
“Yes, they have heritage value, but I think (the bridges) are beyond repair.”
He added, “Jean feels the committee was bypassed. That’s why I said to send a report and have council receive it.
“There has been a willingness to go back and ensure everyone is heard.”
Bridge 24WG is located on First Line, between Sideroad 10 and Sideroad 15 north of Fergus. It was closed to traffic in July 2018 due to structural concerns.
Bridge 4WG is on Fifth Line between Wellington Road 18 and Eramosa-West Garafraxa Townline south of Belwood Lake. The bridge has a posted load limit of five tonnes and a height restriction barrier.
Both bridges were built in the 1920s and are examples of cast-in-place concrete bowstring bridges.
They were designed by A.W. Connor, a prominent bridge engineer, and built by Charles Mattaini, an important local bridge builder.
Gerrard said the ministry acknowledged receipt of her Part II order request in March.
Now the projects are stalled until the minister makes a decision.