Five years ago, Kincardine council decided not to allow public traffic through a gate between Upper Lorne Beach Road and Victoria Street in Inverhuron, when Highway 21 and Bruce County Road 23 (B-line) were closed because of a snowstorm.
At that time, discussion centred on a 2007 policy which said the emergency access was to be used upon special request from Bruce Power to allow buses and/or emergency vehicles to transport essential staff during the closure of Highway 21 and the B-line. There is a procedure to follow to allow the access gate to be opened, and those openings are to be very short durations, supervised by the South Bruce OPP as staffing permits.
Fast-forward to the Kincardine council meeting last night (Jan. 28) and the Great Gate Debate is back on the table, with some residents in favour of leaving the policy as it is, while others want it changed so people can traverse Victoria Street and Upper Lorne Beach Road if the other roads are closed in the winter time.
In committee-of-the-whole, Paul Hamann, Marlene Campbell and Ken Young spoke in favour of opening the road so motorists have a safe route to travel during inclement weather.
As manager of Tiverton Park Manor, Hamann spoke of the need for dependable transportation between Tiverton and Kincardine for food, and fuel, and ready access to emergency medical services for the manor's residents.
“We have 51 residents and we must have an uninterrupted access to supplies,” he said. “We have food shipped in three times per week, and pharmaceuticals daily. Plus, we have employees who travel from Kincardine to work. It seems absurd to build and maintain a road and then close it. Council should open the gate that now closes Victoria Street at Murray Road, whenever Highway 21 and the B-line are closed.”
He said last winter was a good example of the difficulties facing the manor when roads are closed. “We went for over a week without any staff, and our food supplies were running short. We were almost out of fuel so we lowered the temperature in the building and we had no hot water for two days.”
Hamann said the facility had one ill resident who had to wait for medication to arrive. “Our residence is safer with that road (Victoria Street) open.”
Campbell said last winter was a vivid reminder that we live in Bruce County, and the first week of January this year, also saw roads closed in the Kincardine area.
She urged council to consider opening the gate when Highway 21 is closed, so all motorists have an opportunity to reach their destination safely.
Campbell noted there were concerns about tree growth along Victoria Street, blind curves, and the width of the bridge in that area, but most of those issues have been rectified.
Young said the gate should be open when Highway 21 is closed so the whole community has a choice of a safer route to travel during a snowstorm.
He said the municipality is responsible for maintaining the road but there is no through traffic on it.
“I understand that some residents along this route do not want the gate opened because of increased traffic, speeding, and possible collisions,” said Young, adding that there should be no concerns about snowplows meeting cars because the plowing is usually done early in the day, ahead of the traffic flow, and the snowplow operator can lift the plow wing to let traffic pass.
“Many of the concerns can be addressed,” he said. “If the B-line is open, traffic will go that route and not along Victoria Street and Upper Lorne Beach Road. We need to consider the safety of the Victoria Street residents, but we also have to consider the safety of the community as a whole.”
Young said the municipality could have an increased police presence when the gate is open.
“It's only a matter of time before somebody gets injured or killed, driving along that northern section of the B-line in bad weather,” he said. “Meanwhile, the municipality has a safer route that is blocked by a set of gates.”
Robert Taylor, a resident of Victoria Street, spoke against opening the gate.
“I am surprised that anyone would think that routing extra personal vehicles through a populous area in snowy weather conditions is a safe idea,” he said. “Bruce Power is a safety-minded company in that safety is its prime concern and when the roads are closed, the company asks only Category A personnel to report for work as conditions and road conditions allow.
“I believe Bruce Power understands the hazards in people being on the roads ... any roads ... when the weather here is bad enough to have road closures. In fact, several of the roads closures were due to people's personal vehicles becoming stuck and disabled on the road when the weather was poor. More companies should be like Bruce Power and consider the safety of their employees when driving conditions are poor enough to close some of the Bruce County roads.”
Taylor said if the gate is left open for the public during the winter months, or even when Highway 21 and the B-line are closed, there is a chance of accidents or disabled vehicles closing down a narrow emergency route at the time when it is most required.
“Victoria Street has several blind corners, no sidewalks, and limited distance for snow clearing in some sections,” he said. “This makes for a dangerous route even for the local residents on winter's slippery and treacherous roads when reduced visibility is a distinct possibility.”
Taylor said Kincardine council agreed with the stakeholders in 2008, and again in 2010, that the policy as written does meet their requirements and put this topic of general gate access to rest.
“It is dangerous and foolhardy to be on the roads when the weather is bad enough to have both the highway and county road closed,” he said. “Looking for any access through a subdivision with children, no sidewalks and blind corners on the roads, is asking for an unsafe incident to occur.”
He asked if the emergency services are allowed to use this access during bad weather.
Kincardine fire chief Kent Padfield said there is a contingency plan in place and it was used several times last winter. “When people see or hear about bad weather, stay off the roads,” he said.
Councillor Randy Roppel said things have changed since that gate was first installed. “We now own both sides of the road. It's not a dead end anymore. The only thing stopping through traffic is that gate.”
He said council should consider fixing up Victoria Street when the Inverhuron water and sewer project is under way.
Mayor Anne Eadie said that this gate issue was never discussed during the last term of council which was her first time on Kincardine council.
“We need to get more information on this,” she said. “We should have a staff report and then discuss this issue properly.”
“We don't need a staff report,” argued councillor Gordon Campbell. “That's just putting the issue off.”
Eadie noted that, procedurally, council is not allowed to debate an issue following a delegation. “We will refer this to staff.”
Councillor Laura Haight, who was deputy mayor when this came before council in 2010, said there is a significant amount of history to this issue.
“Opening the gate will not solve the problems,” she said. “Council needs to hear the background on this. We have to balance a lot of difficult issues. You open the gate, and somebody could perish on the B-line into Kincardine. And yes, this is a political decision – that's why they pay us the big bucks.”
Eadie thanked the members of the public for their delegations.
The Great Gate Debate came to council Jan. 13, 2010, when councillor Gordon Campbell brought forward the motion to open the access gate, north of Lorne Beach Road, between Upper Lorne Beach Road and Victoria Street, for all passenger vehicles when Highway 21 is closed due to winter storm conditions.
At that point, the issue was deferred to February, allowing for input from the parties who drew up the original policy.
During discussion Feb. 7, 2010, the public works manager said improvements to Victoria Street would be required in order to open it to public traffic.
In an E-mail to council, Bill Van Dam, a resident of Victoria Street, wrote that the pavement on that road is not very wide, many of the bends are not properly engineered, the corners are sharp and in some cases, the road slopes the wrong direction.
"Victoria Street was never built to municipal standards, and to upgrade it to those standards now would destroy the intimate neighbourhood character of our hamlet," he wrote. "We don't want the road slashed out 66 feet wide, and we don't want proper municipal ditches."
He said if the municipality wants an access road from Lorne Beach to the nuclear station, it should extend Albert Street all the way down to Lorne Beach.
Finally, March 18, 2010, Kincardine agreed to leave the policy, and the emergency gate, alone.
The stakeholders, including the municipality, Bruce Power, the OPP, and the Bruce County highways department, met Feb. 19 and decided that the policy has worked well and should remain as is.
At that time, Robert Taylor said a proposal to bring more traffic to that roadway is "perilous" and "dangerous."
"With larger volumes of traffic on the road, emergency requirements of the local residents could very well be jeopardized or at least limited," he said. "If a fire happened to start on a snowy, windy night, it could easily get out of control if firetruck access was limited due to lines of vehicles using the road."
He said by opening the gate, council would be reducing the risk on the B-line but transferring it to Victoria Street and Upper Lorne Beach Road. "The risk of damages or death is not reduced but now put in your laps as you are knowingly routing excess traffic on a substandard road. Do you seriously think there will be no lawsuits resulting from automobile or property damage accidents? This new policy could be a very costly decision at a time when Kincardine does not have that kind of money."
Other residents agreed.
Roberta Trelford, community emergency management co-ordinator for Kincardine, said if the road is opened during specified hours under severe winter conditions, there are bound to be accidents. That would defeat the purpose of having the gate open which is to get essential Bruce Power workers to and from the site, and allow emergency vehicles through.
She said the road is not built to a standard to handle increased traffic. Plus, the municipality could be facing liability issues if it allows the public to use that road, knowing full well it is not built to handle the higher volume and two-way traffic.
Haight said the municipality should not be responsible for commuter traffic of this volume. "We should push the province to make the improvements to Highway 21 so it isn't closed all the time in the winter. That's the real solution, not sending thousands of vehicles through a residential subdivision."
In a recorded vote, council agreed to leave the policy alone, and the gate closed except in case of emergency. Mayor Larry Kraemer, deputy mayor Laura Haight, and councillors Mike Leggett, Guy Anderson, Kenneth Craig and Marsha Leggett were in favour, while councillors Ron Hewitt and Gordon Campbell were opposed. Councillor Randy Roppel was absent.