Lanark County CAO asked for apology for comments at OVRT public consultation meeting
The evening of Thursday Feb. 16th, the Almonte Old Town hall was the scene of a “public consultation” on the Ottawa Valley Rail Trail (OVRT). The hall was standing room only with between 300-400 people there at the meeting’s peak.
The public consultation was going along very well until Lanark CAO Kurt Greaves caused people in the room to gasp in disbelief. He was responding to a question about what would happen if the Mississippi Mills Council wanted a bypass on the trail for motorized traffic that would otherwise go through the middle of the town with houses and apartments. I heard the same thing from him that others did – that if our Council didn’t fall in line, the County could decide to not repair or improve the former Almonte rail bridge that is part of the trail.
The reason for the collective gasp from a large group of taxpayers wasn’t dinner indigestion among the elderly dog-walkers and parents of small children and disabled people who live downtown, many of whom were able to voice their concerns in this public forum. Greaves, who was not elected and therefore has no authority to call into question or try to influence decisions of our Town’s Council, clearly overstepped his role as a government bureaucrat.
In so doing he damaged the integrity of the “public consultation” aspect of the extraordinarily well-attended meeting. Too bad. A lot was otherwise accomplished from people coming together in a very respectful way and discussing the pros and cons of the trail’s eventual implementation and governance, particularly in regards to concerns about snowmobiles and All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs).
Not only does Mr. Greaves seem to believe motorized traffic through the middle of Almonte’s residential heritage district is a done deal with (the admirable) creation of this trail, he seemed comfortable threatening Mississippi Mills Council if Councillors don’t fall in line with his vision for this community resource.
Downtown residents who fear motorized usage of the OVRT just a few yards away from their bedroom or livingroom windows, decks and back yards may be interested in a Feb. 3, 2016 article in Maclean’s Magazine entitled “Canada’s destructive and deadly snowmobile obsession”. The article states that:
“As many as 50 people die in snowmobile accidents annually in Ontario and Quebec alone. Another 1,200 or so Canadians are treated in hospitals with snowmobile-related injuries, according to the most recent data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information. Moreover, snowmobile injuries tend to be more severe than those suffered by participants in other winter sports like skiing, snowboarding or hockey, which makes sense given snowmobiles are 250 kg off-road machines capable of speeds in excess of 100 km/h.”
The article goes on to state that “Every year the onset of snowmobile season is accompanied by reports of riders who crash into trees, rocks or fences, or fall through ice on streams, rivers and lakes (statistically speaking, there are several factors that make a snowmobile injury more likely: riding off a trail, driving too fast, riding at night, drinking alcohol and not wearing a helmet). Not only do all those preventable deaths and injuries cause much anguish and heartache for friends and family, they also carry a very real cost for society.”
What snowmobilers or ATVers do on existing trails, and the risks they take with their lives in rural regions is their concern. What they do in our heritage downtown – and the people they may also impact with their potentially deadly hobby – is the concern of Mississippi Mills taxpayers and their Council, not Mr. Greaves.
As much as some who obviously include Mr. Greaves would like it to be, the usage scenarios for this trail are not a done deal, and the art of political compromise driven by the common sense of affected taxpayers along the trail must prevail. Democratic process and the rule of law must be followed before the trail’s usages are decided, and after. At the back of the hall it was good to learn about instant fines for hundreds of dollars on Quebec trials for motorized noise violations and speed limit infractions, for example. Good idea.
Should a democratic process actually prevail regarding trail-related implementation concerns, this expensive, multi-year trail project will be graciously accepted by everyone. If the integrity of that process and the people driving it is questionable, what should be celebrated as a considerable accomplishment will become something less.
A public apology from Mr. Greaves is in order to ensure that integrity as we move forward.