by Theresa Peluso
How does Lanark County Council arrive at the decisions that affect the whole county? Clearly, by ignoring the facts.
Nearly two years ago, when Lanark and Renfrew counties decided to purchase the 296-kilometre CP Railway corridor between Mattawa and Smiths Falls and convert it into a recreational trail, most residents were enthusiastically imagining how they would hike and bike and ski with their families, friends, and pets, along the trail, now known as the OVRT (Ottawa Valley Recreation Trail). Much like the P’tit train du Nord in Quebec, which is treasured by residents and tourists alike, and is also for non-motorized use only.
But Lanark County Council had other plans. At the (compulsory) public meetings that were held to explain Council’s plans for the OVRT, CAO Kurt Greaves basically stated that Council were planning to designate all 61 kilometres of the OVRT in Lanark County as dual-use, for motorized and non-motorized users alike. In effect, Council had decided that 2 percent of the population, riding huge, powerful machines, would affect the safety of the other 98 percent of residents in Lanark County. Did you know that as many as 50 people die in snowmobile accidents annually in Ontario and Quebec alone? And that another 1,200 Canadians, on average, are treated in hospitals with snowmobile-related injuries? According to AllOntario.com, “the direct costs of ATV and snowmobile injuries in Canada are $185 million and indirect costs are $196 million for a total of $381 million.” Add the fact that there will be little or no policing of the OVRT, and you have a recipe for disaster.
Of course people are concerned about sharing the OVRT with motorized users! Studies have shown that, when a trail is designated dual-use, active use of the trail decreases by 50 percent.
According to the Lanark County’s very own 2005 Recreational Trails Business Plan, in 2002, 125,000 people hiked or walked in Lanark County, 17,000 cycled, 52,000 viewed birds and wildlife, and 309,000 participated in sports or other outdoor activities. Only 5,000 reported snowmobiling. (No data was provided for ATV use.) Over the last 10 years, there is ample evidence that both residents and tourists are becoming increasingly health-conscious and cycling, jogging, running and walking considerably more than they used to. But this report contains just so many inconvenient facts.
Following the public meetings, County councillors were inundated with responses objecting to shared use of the OVRT. They received 648 emails and 80 comment sheets (provided at the public meetings). A review of the comment sheets by a private individual shows that 72 percent of the respondents were against dual-use, 22 percent were for dual-use, and the position of the other respondents was unclear. As for all the emails that were sent, who knows what happened to them? This public feedback simply didn’t provide the desired support for shared use, and was therefore ignored. More inconvenient facts.
Next, Lanark County were required to prepare a management plan, and they invited the snowmobile clubs and ATV users to collaborate. No other user groups were invited. You know, groups such as parents of young children (there are a total of over 4,000 children aged 0 to 14 in Mississippi Mills and Carleton Place, according to the 2016 census), people with disabilities, cyclists, dog-walkers, town residents, landowners with property near the OVRT, etc. Motorized users set the policies for trail-use in this management plan for our taxpayer-funded OVRT.
Unsurprisingly, the management plan is poorly written, with no safeguards for residents in highly populated areas through which the OVRT passes; no mention of how users will be policed or by-laws enforced, or who will bear the cost; and no mention of extra insurance requirements. Some proposed regulations, such as setting speed limits of 50 km/h in non-settlement areas, and 20 km/h in settlement areas, are downright dangerous.
Because County Council refused to even consider making even part of the OVRT non-motorized, Mississippi Mills representatives at County Council pleaded for a by-pass around Almonte to avoid recreational vehicles travelling through the highly populated areas of the town. This was denied.
One more thing: In the Ontario Provincial Policy Statement, which applies province-wide and provides clear policy direction on land-use planning, municipal by-laws take precedence over county regulations. Lanark County Council’s reaction to this new information? Speed up the formation of a committee to implement the OVRT management plan.
And now for the latest insult. Lanark County Council (on February 21) passed a motion to cover the trail with 5/8 inch gravel, which is totally unsuitable for most bicycles, all baby strollers and all wheelchairs and other mobility aids. What message does this send to non-motorized residents who want to use a trail that is being funded by ALL of us?
If you care about your rights as a County resident to safety, fair treatment, and quality of life, please join the efforts of Friends of the Ottawa Valley Recreation Trail (website address is https://www.rail-trail.ca/) for updates on this issue, and write to your municipal councillors. Mississippi Mills residents should contact Municipal Clerk Shawna Stone at firstname.lastname@example.org . For residents of Carleton Place, contact Town Clerk Duncan Rogers at email@example.com . At the County level, write to Leslie Drynan, County Clerk, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our councillors have refused to follow due process by considering ALL the facts before making decisions. If we draw enough attention to this issue, we can shame our County councillors into replacing their undemocratic decisions with ones that make the Ottawa Valley Recreation Trail safe and accessible to everyone, by restricting it to non-motorized use.