/MH council considers cattle grate at a cost of $283,000
Replacing a cattle grate on Wessel Road could cost Minden Hills township $283,000, which some council members called “preposterous.” /Photo submitted by Tara Stephen, acting director of public works

MH council considers cattle grate at a cost of $283,000

By Sue Tiffin

A cattle grate replacement could cost Minden Hills township more than a quarter of a million dollars. 

“To be clear, this report brings me no joy,” Tara Stephen, acting director of public works, told council on Dec. 9 before she brought forth the report on a cattle grate replacement on Wessell Road with a potential cost of $283,000. 

Earlier this year, Stephen said the township had received a complaint regarding the condition of the cattle grate, which is installed on Wessell Road at the transition from the public portion to the private portion of the road.

“Staff at that time attended, inspected, saw no need for this cattle grate, and so decided that we could either backfill the hole, or install a box culvert, both of which are very easy, very inexpensive fixes that wouldn’t have impacted the budget whatsoever,” she said. When staff reached out to a local resident to see if the grate was theirs, or if it could be disposed of, Stephen said they learned “there was in fact an agreement between the township and this resident that the township would maintain that cattle grate in perpetuity. The resident has since provided us a copy of that agreement. I believe the agreement was signed in 1978 but it’s still enforced today because of the in perpetuity clause.”

Stephen said when the township then looked at the option of replacing the grate in its current form, it was determined to need significant engineering to replace it in the form identified in the agreement with the property owner.

“Councillor [Pam] Sayne negotiated with the resident to modify the design slightly to allow us to reach out to a company to do a design build on the grate itself,” said Stephen. 

The grate is now designed and constructed, but footings need to be built to maintain the grate for traffic passage. 

One company, UrbanLink, has availability and is willing to do the work, indicating a price of $225,000 for the footings alone, said Stephen. 

“Additionally, there would need to be a pretty extensive road closure period in order to pour these concrete forms and do this work, up to four to six weeks,” she said. 

To offer access to the area to homeowners through the area where the road closure would occur, Stephen said the township could build a temporary roadway around the closure, or rent a temporary bridge at a cost of $18,000, which is the option staff preferred. 

“But because of the high cost of this project and the fact that it was not budgeted for, and it’s not in next year’s budget, we just need some direction from council,” said Stephen. 

Mayor Brent Devolin compared the situation to an episode of the Twilight Zone.

“It’d be like reading that we needed to continue to replace Stanley Steamers in a particular application,” he said, noting he’d like a legal opinion to determine the township’s responsibility with “an antiquated and out-of-date solution and agreement from the distant past.” 

“To go and look at it you’d think you’re in a Twilight Zone,” he said. “The cost of this, a quarter of a million dollars, this is preposterous, for something that’s as simple, as you said, as a box culvert.”

Councillor Bob Carter asked how many thousand heads of cattle were contained by the gate, to which Stephen said there are currently no cattle in the area, to her knowledge.

“I completely agree with the mayor, although I probably wouldn’t have put it so softly and delicately and politically correct,” said Carter. “… I suggest we put this off until we get a proper opinion and if it gets to the point where it’s deteriorated so much for safety reasons we get a truckload of gravel and fill the damn thing in.”

Councillor Jean Neville said that the owners of the property would surely see reason in negating the previous agreement. 

“Are the owners of the cattle gate not willing to negate that agreement?,” she asked. “It seems preposterous. And two, cattle grates that I’m used to knowing, if anybody walks over them they’re rather scary and treacherous. Isn’t there a health and safety issue as well, when there are no cattle?”

Sayne said she had been to the area several times.

“This is a disaster,” she said. “It’s been damaged by our trucks probably, by our snow plows over time, it’s a dangerous situation. There are people who have had damage to their car already by this who so far haven’t come forward to take any liability against this, but that might be pending, I don’t know. It concerns me.”

Sayne said it was still an active farm.

“If we want them to bring cows over, they will, if they need to prove a point,” she said. 

Sayne suggested before getting lawyers involved to have staff approach the owners to have a discussion about how to resolve the issue.  

Devolin said he had no objections to a conversation to see if there might be a way to find a solution that is more cost-effective that will achieve the same objective. 

“Have the conversation first, absolutely, if there’s things that need to be done in the interim, to mitigate risk, sure,” said Devolin. “But … let me say that I think I’ve only seen one more one-sided agreement signed since I was here and that’s for the use of the courts in this building. But this is a darn close second.”  

He asked if there were perhaps alternative solutions such as bolting the grate on top of a box culvert. 

Stephen said it would require investigation. 

“I’ve got to think there is a solution that will achieve the same objective on behalf of the municipality, the people that trek there and the people that own the property with the farm for a heck of a lot less money than a quarter million dollars,” said Devolin. 

Neville asked if the family knew of the complications and cost of the grate replacement.

“I don’t know whether they have read the report or not, but it’s bigger than a breadbox maybe, than in the ‘70s putting a cattle grate in the road,” she said. 

The cost of the cattle grate and installation of the grate is $40,000, while the footings cost $225,000 and an alternative access method during construction is $18,000 for a total of $283,000, which does not include HST.