Questions Mount about Lanark County’s Right to Dictate to Mississippi Mills about the Ottawa Valley Recreation Trail
by Don Johnston
On January 24th, Mayor Shaun McLaughlin dropped a bombshell on Lanark County’s Economic Development Committee (EDC). He informed the County Councillors that he had acquired a legal opinion that cast doubt on their right to force Mississippi Mills to accept motorized use of the Ottawa Valley Recreation Trail (OVRT) within its boundaries.
Lanark County Council and county staff have long maintained that the Municipal Act gave them the authority to overrule the lower-tier government by-laws with regard to traffic. They thought that they could simply ignore the wishes of the Mississippi Mills Council and the residents of Almonte to prevent motorized use of portions of the Ottawa Valley Rail Trail (OVRT). It appears they might be wrong.
The legal opinion pertains to a dispute in the townships of Head, Clara and Maria (HCM) north of Renfrew and their battle with Renfrew County to prevent motorized use of the Algonquin Trail (the name of the OVRT in Renfrew County) as it passes through their communities. Despite their small size, their initiative could be a game changer.
According to the legal opinion obtained by their township council, the County (Renfrew) is subject to local zoning under the Planning Act. It goes on to say that, “The township has significant control over what portions of the trail may be used merely as a hiking trail and what portions of the trail may be used by recreational motor vehicles.”
Materials obtained from HCM also reference the judgement from a Quebec court in 2004 that held that snowmobiles did indeed present a nuisance to the residents along a trail and the municipalities “did not have the right to create a linear snowmobile park which constituted a public nuisance”. They were forced to pay damages to the homeowners within 100 metres of the trail that created the nuisance. The Ontario Municipal Act gives lower-tier municipalities like Mississippi Mills and Carleton Place authority to control nuisance, dust, odour and noise.
So, there is every reason for Lanark County to stop and listen to the elected officials in Mississippi Mills including possibly a legal obligation to do so. Unfortunately, the reaction from many County councillors at a County meeting on Jan 24th was to ‘double-down’ and to try to complete their motorized trail come hell or high water. However, the new warden, John Fenick, observed that it would be far better for the two levels of government to cooperate rather than litigate. Amen!
In the meantime, it remains illegal for snowmobiles and other motorized vehicles to use the OVRT within Almonte. Incidents should be reported to the OPP at 613-267-2626.
There is a lot more information about the HCM situation and the OVRT at www.rail-trail.ca. You can sign up to receive email blasts and to demonstrate support for the non-motorized use of the OVRT in Mississippi Mills and Carleton Place. Those in favour of a safe non-motorized trail between Carleton Place and Almonte need to have their voices heard. It is time for us all to speak out.