Fight to keep County Rd. 91 open goes to Environmental Review Tribunal
By Don Crosby Owen Sound Sun Times
Grey Highlands council is expected to reveal on Thursday how it will participate in a hearing before the Environmental Review Tribunal later this spring.
The tribunal will hear an appeal by Clearview Township of the Niagara Escarpment Commission’s denial of its request for a permit to rebuild Clearview Township Sideroad 26-27.
“Grey Highlands has to do something,” said Mayor Paul McQueen who stressed that any decision by council at its Feb. 25 meeting would be to support a motion passed by the former council in 2010 strongly opposing the closing of Simcoe County Road 91, a major transportation between Grey and Simcoe counties, without replacing it with an equivalent road.
In its Nov. 19 decision not to grant Clearview Township’s application for a development agreement to upgrade Sideroad 26-27, the NEC board said the proposed upgrade plans did not meet the test of being ‘essential’ as defined in the Niagara Escarpment Plan, and it would clash with the NEP’s land-use designations for escarpment natural area, and escarpment protection area.
According to the November decision, the development of the road would “cause environmental harm, in particular to cold water streams and would damage steep escarpment slopes.”
Sideroad 26-27 in Clearview Township is currently considered a ‘summer’ road, and upgrading it to one that can be used year-round is part of the agreement that allowed Walker Aggregates to close part of Simcoe County Road 91 as part of plans to expand its quarry operations.
Grey County’s Transportation and Public Safety committee last week recommended that county council support Grey Highlands involvement in the hearing, subject to a favourable report from the county planning department.
Clearview Township resident Wendy Franks, is challenging the legality of the road settlement agreements between Walker Industries, Clearview and Simcoe.
Any time a municipality decides to sell publicly owned property it must be declared surplus to the needs of the community.
Franks told about three dozen people at a public meeting on Saturday in Singhampton that she plans to challenge the decision to declare County Road 91 no longer essential and replace it with a far less suitable gravel; a kilometre to the north that is not open in the winter.
“You have this road with hundreds of vehicles a day that is supposedly surplus to the needs of the community meanwhile you have another road that gets maybe five cars a day that goes through the most ecologically diverse parts of our province and this is supposed to be essential to the needs of the community,” she said.
Franks is also challenging the township’s decision to sell part of Simcoe County Road 91 without getting a fair market value assessment and without holding public meetings prior to making a decision
“That violates the municipal act,” she said.
Walker received the approval to close part of County Road 91 in 2012 following a lengthy Consolidated Hearings Board tribunal.
Under the agreement with Clearview Township, County Road 91 would be handed over to Walker and closed to through traffic west of the 10th Line, and the 10th Line and the 26-27 Sideroad upgraded to handle additional traffic. The agreement also required Walker to pay for upgrades to County Road 91 east from Sideroad 10 leading into Duntroon.
Singhampton area resident Doug Dingeldein, who plans to participate in the hearing later this spring, told Saturday’s meeting that cutting this vital link between Grey and Simcoe counties will harm commerce, farming, tourism and especially those going to work every day as they travel between the two counties and beyond.
Some 505 residents of Grey Highlands travel to and from work in Simcoe County every day. Many use County Road 91 – especially in the winter as the road is considered a relatively safe route down the mountain, he said.
To make his point Dingeldein related an incident on Jan. 29 of this year where the Clearview Township Fire Chief Colin Shewell requested the OPP close a part of County Road 124 between Singhampton and Clearview Road 10 as part of efforts to contain a house fire.
During the three hours that the road was closed during the afternoon, all north and south-bound County Road 124 traffic was re-routed via County Road 91, including tanker trucks, 18 wheelers, cars and other vehicles.
“Traffic on (County Road) 91 in the section proposed to be closed was bumper to bumper during the fire-related closure of 124,” Dingeldeing said
McQueen said more than 200 families in the eastern part of Osprey Township rely on fire protection and emergency medical services that travel via the road. Those services would be delayed if they had to take Sideroad 26-27.
A firefighter with the London fire service who lives in Osprey Bluffs told the meeting that in the winter neither fire trucks nor ambulances would be able to climb the 12 degree slope to the top of Sideroad 26-27 unless they had four wheel drive.
The terms of Walker’s approval for the expanded quarry do not permit shipment of aggregate until the proposed work on 26-27 and County Road 91 are completed.
Dingeldein also noted that closing the road is not essential for the operation of the new Walker quarry on the north side of County Road 91.
The company has tunneled under the road into the area of the new quarry and doesn’t plan to remove part of the road. It could continue to keep the road open to the public if it wanted to. He suggested the company negotiate a settlement rather than continue the fight at ERT.
Dingeldein urged residents who support the NEC’s position to attend the pre-hearing conference set for March 11 at the Clearview Township administration centre. At that time it will be decided the status of those who want to take part and clarify the outstanding issues.
The hearing is to begin on May 2 at the Clearview Township office starting at 10 a.m.