Published March 30 2017
Algonquin Highlands council will get advice from a lawyer regarding residents of Bear Lake Road hiring a contractor to clear snow from the roadway during the winter.
Township staff received an inquiry from a Bear Lake Road property owner in February.
“The property owner was under the assumption that a building contractor had received permission from the township back in 2015 to keep the road open while working on a project near the end of the road” read a report from public works manager Mike Thomas. “Council may recall that this happened without township consent and when realized by staff the contractor was instructed to cease any further road clearing operations.”
Bear Lake Road located in the northern portion of Algonquin Highlands poses a unique and complicated situation since while it is municipally owned it is not municipally maintained during the winter months. It is a seasonal road. Last year council voted against spending $4 million that would be required to bring the road up to municipal standards where it could be travelled by a snowplow during the winter months.
There are approximately 120 properties located off private roads located off Bear Lake Road and for years residents have been making requests regarding winter maintenance as more of them wish to visit their seasonal properties during the winter months.
It was Thomas’s recommendation that council seek legal advice regarding allowing residents to hire a contractor to clear the road a recommendation councillors were supportive of.
Hesitation over whether to allow the snow clearing stems from litigious concerns.
“If something goes wrong . . . municipalities are always included in a bit of a widespread suit” said Reeve Carol Moffatt.
“My first reaction was maybe there’s a bit of leeway here to work with them” said Deputy-reeve Liz Danielsen but added she too had concerns around joint-and-several liability.
Joint-and-several liability is a legal construct which dictates that in a lawsuit with multiple defendants if some defendants do not have the capacity to pay damages their damages may be paid by a defendant who can afford to pay them even if that defendant is found to be only one per cent responsible. It is the reason why municipalities are often named in lawsuits and Ontario municipalities have been lobbying the province through AMO (the Association of Municipalities of Ontario) to make changes to legislation regarding joint-and-several liability.
Councillor Brian Lynch hoped the legal opinion would not cost too much.
“I just don’t want to spend thousands on a legal opinion” Lynch said. “We keep throwing legal opinions at this road. I more or less want a yes or no.”
“It would certainly put more information on the table” said Councillor Marlene Kyle favouring the idea.
While in some cases road associations can assume liability of publicly owned roadways treasurer Tammy McKelvey told councillors those associations must be incorporated bodies in order to take on legal responsibility.