Municipality will look at how it can help with maintenance
By Stephen Petrick
The long, winding story of how Algonquin Highlands should treat long, winding Bear Lake Road is taking another twist.
Councillors from the municipality asked their staff to prepare a report on options for how it might help maintain the road, which recently uncovered historical documents that have revealed is a Crown road and not municipally owned.
The revelation, which Mayor Carol Moffatt said “gobsmacked” her, prompted her to apologize to residents at the July 21 council meeting. It also renewed a discussion on how the municipality should support residents, who live in the municipality, but not on roads that the municipality controls.
Moffatt said she learned of the ownership situation after meeting with a lawyer who represents Bear Lake Road residents. The documents provided, contradicted the long-standing belief that Bear Lake Road was a municipally owned road the municipality would only maintain in the summer.
A Bear Lake Road contractor had been providing snow plow services along the road since 2015, but municipal staff recently asked the contractor to stop, believing the municipality would be liable if any problems occurred, as they consider the road dangerous.
Bear Lake Road winds along Kimball Creek, East Jeannine Lakes and Clayton Lake in a rugged area of the municipality. Council believes about 120 people own properties in the area. Most are summer cottagers, but an increasing number want access to their properties in the winter.
Moffatt apologized to Bear Lake residents for “the years of angst” and said, “we believed we were doing the right thing based on the evidence.” Who should maintain Bear Lake Road and to what extent has been debated by the municipality and residents, dating back to the 1970s. The newly-accepted fact that Bear Lake Road is a Crown road, changes things for the municipality, too. It means the municipality can provide maintenance services, such as snow plowing or summer grazing, but is not obliged to.
The municipality has been providing summer grazing services, for years, but has never been comfortable with having their own staff snow plow the road.
After a lengthy discussion, councillors voted to have municipal staff file a report for their September meeting, which would outline the benefits and drawbacks of upping the service level to the road. After that report, council intends to seek public input.
Moffatt said the situation could lead to a “win-win” in the end. She said the municipality could survey Bear Lake Road residents individually and find new solutions in the end, or start services on a trial basis to see if they work well.
Moffatt was remorseful for the mistake the municipality made, saying, “we unknowingly failed some people and we need to do better.”
But she also called for residents to be respectful, pointing out the chief administrative officer Angie Bird received emails from angry residents that crossed a line.
“The personal attacks she has received in the last day or so are unwarranted and unacceptable,” Moffatt said. “You can disagree with the process but attacks are unacceptable.”