The Trans Canada Trail (TCT) coordinator for Southern Ontario reassured New Tecumseth councillors last night that most of the route between Windsor and Ottawa, and Niagara Falls to North Bay was built along abandoned rail corridors (ARC) and had to overcome many of the same concerns and obstacles raised locally by adjacent landowners and farmers.
Jim Paterson's delegation to council was an 11th hour effort to avert passage of the previous week's committee decision to suspend any further work on the TCT in town "until all matters pertaining to the whole phase two of the trails are resolved." Because the motion did not include a deadline, there was a sense it could be delayed indefinitely.
"Over 2,000 km of (TCT) in southern Ontario, and knowing the geography of southern Ontario, the majority of that is through rural agricultural land. A great deal of that trail has been built on abandoned rail lines. So, there has been a lot of public consultation on the development and completion of those trails, and during that consultation, there has been a great deal of similar issues and concerns that have been raised there that have been raised here in the town of New Tecumseth," said Mr. Paterson. "Those are issues such as trespassing, the impacts on agricultural activities, and crops and livestocks, concerns about unauthorized use of the trail, so they're very common. ... And as a result there has been a great deal of efforts to mitigate those issues. Things such as clear and proper signage, control of access at rights of way road crossings to control unauthorized use. Also a number of agreements in place for fencing, and that takes a different variety of forms to mitigate trespassing and crop and livestock issues."
Mr. Paterson said he was in attendance last week when Ward 5 councillor Donna Jebb raised a concern for food safety/security, which propelled him to review how Leamington dealt with similar issues raised by its tomato and cash crop farmers adjacent to their proposed trail, which opened last summer.
"Now, they did have some issues raised, and they were dealt with, with the adjacent landowners - fencing, and signage." When Ms. Jebb suggested "we have not had a full crop year to see if there are any issues," Mr. Paterson replied, "the trail was built over last summer; it was built during the growing of the crops... they did deal with those."
He told Ward 1 councillor Marc Biss that realistic cost estimates put trail development at between $80,000 to $100,000 per km, while assuring Ward 7 councillor Shira Harrison-McIntyre there are many other properties intersected by the TCT.
"With the abandoned rail line, which is the nature of that strip of land that cuts through so many agricultural farms, there are so many crossings," he said. "Where I'm from, we have 44 km of abandoned rail line trail as part of the TCT. We have over 56 agricultural crossings, those crossings are all posted and signed where trail users would come up to it, we have worked with the landowners to make it proper. People know they're coming up to a crossing. On the other side, we recognize the farmer's historical rights to use the trail to get to one side or the other. We honour those."
Ms. Harrison-McIntyre also asked how he would deal with the property issues in New Tecumseth.
"The option to go around is quite costly," he said. "But I think there are always going to be deviations, and it's council's decision to do that. I think the WD Potato, the access along the driveway and back up the road to bypass it, I don't think it's unreasonable. I think from a trail user perspective, it's not as safe as staying on the trail. From our perspective, trail use and trail safety and the quality of trail, is first and foremost, but we know that we can't always have the trail in the best location. And other factors come into play, but we do have areas where it does deviate and go onto roads as long as its safe..... Those are reasonable options."
The approximate hour long debate regarding the trail's fate, circled around "friendly" amendments to Ms. Jebb's original motion. Ward 4 councillor Fran Sainsbury's attempt failed to win support because it didn't provide a sunset clause on negotiationing with the adjacent landowners.
Ward 6 councillor Richard Norcross pointed to a draft recommendation that was prepared for council as part of the 2015 budget package. It stated the Town proceed to tender the trail between the 9th and 10th Line, and between 10 and 20 Sideroad for spring 2015 construction, while simultaneously directing mitigation measures and easements for trail section reroutes be worked out with WD Potato and the bison farmers on the 13th Line. It was approved by council.
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