by Almonte resident Chris George
Within the next few weeks, Lanark County Council will pass a trail management plan for the Ottawa Valley Rail Trail (OVRT) that will dictate the rules of operation along the trail.
For Mississippi Mills residents, alarm bells should be going off as there remain too many unanswered questions on the management of the trail through our community.
To date, the actions of the Lanark County Council and administration on the development of the OVRT have demonstrated that Almonte residents have no say when it comes to traffic on the portions of the rail trail running through our neighbourhoods. It is a travesty of democracy that our directly elected Mississippi Mills Councillors have no say either. Over the protests of Mississippi Mills residents and taxpayers – and municipal council, the County has championed the OVRT as a motorized thoroughfare for the enjoyment of 1,000 BEAST members, unorganized ATV club members, and any driver on a snowmobile, ATV, dirt bike or off-road vehicle wanting to pass through town.
My family and Almonte neighbours, who live adjacent to the trail, will be directly impacted by the County’s trail plans. Yet, our interests have been ignored in favour of the County’s agenda to develop the OVRT as a Lanark loop for sledders and off-road enthusiasts. Our quality of life and enjoyment of our property will be diminished by noise and air pollution and concerns for safety. Sadly, there appears to be no recourse for property owners adjacent to the trail as serious issues are being decided behind closed doors without public disclosure and discussion.
In the County’s management plan, what safeguards have been established for residents in populated areas? Where is there consideration for children, people who are physically challenged, or local pedestrian traffic? How can a 20 km speed limit be safe in Almonte’s downtown core with people walking across the bridge or along the Riverwalk? Despite concerns expressed by Mississippi Mills residents and elected officials, the County refuses to acknowledge that populated areas require different safety measures than the rural stretches of the trail. It has ignored public discussion about the safety concerns expressed by active transportation and local residential users.
Who is to enforce the law on the trail? If it is the OPP, how will this be done in Mississippi Mills and in Carleton Place, and who is to pay for the additional policing? If the answer is the snowmobile & ATV clubs, is this realistic? Are the clubs to enforce law for their members and non-members of the public? What fines and/or consequences are administered to those who break the law? The County has failed to provide a clear statement on how it will manage OVRT law enforcement and conflict resolution – and the associated costs.
Why has there been no mention of insurance costs, no public discussion about the risk considerations that are factored and must be accounted for to cover motorized, multiple-use traffic through populated areas? Where is the public disclosure of the facts on insuring this trail? County Council and/or administration has not made any insurance information public. Talks on the trail insurance have occurred behind closed doors and there is a cone of silence on this issue. The County should be transparent about liability and insurance coverage questions: What is the cost, how is it factored, and who pays?
Respect of municipal bylaws
How will local municipal bylaws for speed, noise, curfews, and traffic on municipal property be upheld? What authority do municipalities have in setting their bylaws within their town boundaries? County is firm that they are setting the regulations for the trail corridor. Is there not a jurisdictional issue at play where the trail cuts through a municipality and crosses municipal streets and properties? Apparently not, according to some County Councillors. At a recent County Council meeting, one rural Councillor stated that local municipalities have “no say” on what happens on the trail.
Development of an acceptable bypass
What happens when a local municipality agrees on a bypass, or a bylaw, and the County does not want to respect local interests? There has been some discussion at Mississippi Mills Council about an idea to establish a dispute settlement mechanism to arbitrate in instances where a local municipality and/or residents’ group may have a difference of opinion on the management of the trail – or the establishment of potential bypass routes. When this was raised at County Council in December, a pact of rural Councillors were adamant that there is no need for a dispute mechanism because the word of the County Council is final and indisputable on all matters of trail management.
It is very disturbing to think Lanark County Council will not publicly address these multiple issues. It is time that the rural-County-Councillors who have no consideration for the interests of Mississippi Mills residents, listen to those who do represent the very people who will be affected. On this point, there is only faint hope that our elected Mississippi Mills Council will receive the respect it deserves from Lanark County and its appointed Council.
Lanark County Council’s inability and/or unwillingness to answer the most basic questions of safety and trail management is cause of great concern for Mississippi Mills residents.