By James Matthews
Algonquin Highlands council set parameters by which the town will maintain Bear Lake Road during the summer.
A policy for maintaining the road, which is a forest access road about seven kilometres long on Crown land, was discussed on Oct. 27 during a special meeting of council.
“It’s taken us a long time to get here,” Mayor Carol Moffatt said.
There’s been an awful lot of angst behind the scenes about the issue. It would be rude and disrespectful to speak of it on the record, she said.
“This has not been a fun process,” the mayor said. “There’s been a lot of terrible things said, a lot of accusations levelled at staff. Unkind words about council, so I’m not prepared to give an inch.”
The policy applies specifically to Bear Lake Road on a year-by-year trial basis. A review of the policy and the minor maintenance practices on the road will be done annually, with findings and recommendations reported to Council for consideration and direction.
The guidelines are used to provide direction for the Public Works Department. But, depending on workload and other unknown circumstances, maintenance activities may occur outside the accepted timeframe.
Seasonal Minor Maintenance
Town staff will patrol the road once per month from June 1 to Oct. 31, and grading will be done twice in that timeframe. Culverts will also be cleaned to maintain water flow.
Maintenance activities will be included in the annual budget and will only be carried out through the regularly scheduled work plans. That work will include ditching, brush removal, and gravel application in preparation for annual dust control application.
The dust control will be done once per year between June 1 and Oct. 31.
The township will not conduct any maintenance between Nov. 1 and May 31.
The Bear Lake bailey bridge, which is owned by Algonquin Highlands, will be inspected and maintained between June 1 through Oct. 31.
Adam Thorn, the town’s Public Works manager, said seasonal roads are typically maintained by the department from late May until Oct. 15.
“It’s usually whenever the ground allows us (to start), and the temperatures and the conditions allows us to put equipment through,” he said. “Some of the biggest struggles we face with seasonal roads is, yes a pickup truck can go through and it’s a little bit muddy. But when we start putting something that weighs 15 tonnes on the road it sinks a little bit deeper than a truck. We have to wait a little bit longer.”
Thorn said crews have never attempted maintenance on the road before mid-May. The heavier vehicles churn the thoroughfare to the point where more harm is done than if crews waited until deeper into the spring to address a dryer road.
“We hold ourselves to that timeframe,” he said.
Deputy Mayor Liz Danielsen said the proposed June 1 start for work on Bear Lake Road is probably a good idea.
“There had been some questions asked about the June 1 date,” she said. “But that’s probably a good, safe date for work to begin.”
Moffatt said the door isn’t closed to the possibility of tending to the road before June 1.
“But … not because anybody phones and says the roads need to be done,” she said. “It’ll be done when the Public Works people, in their qualified purview, decide to start doing the seasonal roads.
“This is a trial and it may take a number of years to get it tweaked.”
The policy will be forwarded to the Bear Lake Road Winter Maintenance Association.
Council has been asked if paving the road to prevent erosion is a possibility, as had been carried out on other thoroughfares in the past.
Moffatt said such work would be a capital project as opposed to minor maintenance.
Some people have written council about a beaver dam that’s causing Jeannie Lake to come close to topping Bear Lake Road. It was asked if its removal would fall under the scope of minor maintenance.
“Beavers and beaver dams are extremely problematic for roads,” Moffatt said. “It very often depends where the beavers live and whose land they’re on.”
Thorn said staff would only clear the work of beavers at a culvert’s opening.
“That would be the most our staff would clear out,” he said, and added that a dam further out in the lake would not be regular minor maintenance.
Danielsen said this is the beginning of a year-by-year policy. Stepping outside that could be problematic.
“If we’re going to accept this policy, we’ve got to stick to it or rewrite the policy,” she said.
Further, if the town’s going to undertake maintenance, the road will be open to everybody. That’s despite evidence of signage on Bear Lake Road that indicated passage was only open to winter maintenance association members, Moffatt said.
“They have no right to do that,” she said. “No one has the authority to govern that road or force a membership or tell them what to do. There’s a lot of people who use that road who are concerned that the boss of the road is the association.”