Eco-passages in dispute

Sponsors want Norfolk to take over

This file photo shows wildlife-friendly ecopassages being installed on the Long Point Causeway. This was the scene in the middle of the 3.6-kilometre connecting road between Port Rowan and Long Point. Simcoe Reformer / File photo

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A battle could be brewing over responsibility for the eco-passages and wildlife fencing installed in recent years along the Long Point Causeway.

The Long Point World Biosphere Reserve Foundation, in partnership with other conservation groups, raised $2.5 million over several years for the installation of the infrastructure along the 3.5-kilometre causeway.

The three culverts, nine wildlife tunnels and fencing is credited with reducing reptile mortality on the causeway, which separates the Big Creek Marsh from Long Point Bay.

The biosphere foundation is weighing an appeal to the Ministry of the Environment if Norfolk County refuses to accept responsibility.

“We have to decide whether we need to take it up with the minister,” Rick Levick, president of the foundation, said Tuesday.

“It’s not our preferred option. We don’t want to delay the project. The road is a mess. The bridge is a mess.”

Levick and others raised the money for the causeway infrastructure, which was installed in phases, over several years.

At the outset, former public works general manager Eric D’Hondt was careful to link responsibility for the care and upkeep of the eco-passages, culvert and fencing to the promoters of the Long Point Causeway Improvement Project in any agreement they entered with the county.

With the causeway set to be rebuilt, Levick says the time has come for Norfolk to assume responsibility for infrastructure it is about to disturb.

Levick says the private-sector entities that raised money for the causeway may’ve saved Norfolk millions of dollars. Levick said the province very easily could have ordered the county to undertake this work itself due to the high mortality rate of turtles, snakes and other species-at-risk due to traffic on the causeway between Port Rowan and Long Point.

Port Rowan Coun. Tom Masschaele is sympathetic to these arguments. He has tabled a motion for an upcoming meeting calling on Norfolk to assume responsibility for this infrastructure.

Levick’s comments came after a presentation by Henry Huotari, a program director with the environmental consulting firm Parsons in London. Parsons recently completed an environmental assessment regarding the $12-million causeway rebuild.

Key findings of the Parsons’ report include:

  • Parsons is discouraging the construction of a four-kilometre multi-use pathway offset from the road allowance on the west side of the causeway. Huotari said this would require a lengthy, complicated negotiation for land with the Canadian Wildlife Service that could delay the causeway rebuild.
  • Parsons estimates that the causeway project will begin in the spring of 2020. The road itself should be rebuilt by late fall of next year. Replacement of the failing bridge over the causeway near George Lane would also begin in 2020 but not be finished until sometime in 2021.
  • Huotari gave assurances that traffic in and out of Long Point will continue for the duration of the project. This includes the access and egress of heavy vehicles, RVs, boats and trailers and the like. “We simply cannot hold up an ambulance or a fire truck,” Huotari said.
  • Norfolk will consider the possibility of removing the old willow trees on either side of the causeway later this year. If the county decides to get this work out of the way early, it will have to wait till late summer or in the fall when birds are finished nesting.

MSonnenberg@postmedia.com

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