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THUNDER BAY -- Mayor Keith Hobbs is dismayed that it doesn’t appear CN Rail wants any part of repairing the James Street Swing Bridge and reopening it to vehicular or pedestrian traffic.
Hobbs said there’s no indication of cost estimates to make the necessary repairs or upgrades, according to a report the railway commissioned in the wake of a fire last October that set the wooden portion of the century-old bridge ablaze.
The span reopened to rail traffic within days.
“I got the impression they’re not interested in that,” Hobbs said on Wednesday, two days before city officials and their legal representation are expected to meet with CN officials and their legal team.
Hobbs did say CN has informed the city and Fort William First Nation, which is served by the bridge, that the rail span and the vehicle span are two separate structures.
He added the city is looking at an agreement signed in 1906 between the City of Fort William, Thunder Bay’s predecessor, and the Grand Trunk Railroad, to see what obligations the railroad might have to live up to in 2014.
Hobbs said the original agreement called for a $50,000 payment to the railroad by Fort William, but that payment has long since stopped.
“We’ve had our lawyers working on it for three months. We’ve got some very good lawyers in Toronto that have dealt with railway companies and bridges,” Hobbs said.
“We’re maintaining that that agreement is still in place and CN should be honouring it.
The mayor said he hopes the situation doesn’t land in court, but isn’t afraid to go that route if necessary.
“We’re going to have further meetings with CN. We’re meeting this Friday with Fort William First Nation and our engineer and our lawyer and looking at next steps. But I would like to see CN come to the party, do their job and fix the bridge up,” Hobbs said.
“That’s where we’re going to go first.”
The bridge is one of two local entrance and exit points to Fort William First Nation, the shortest route between the two communities.
Should an emergency occur, closing Highway 61 down for any period of time, residents on the reserve and beyond would face a lengthy detour.
This could spell trouble for anyone facing a medical emergency.
“We’re down to one access and egress to Fort William First Nation, now. That bridge needs to be opened so we have that emergency route, or we have two routes in case of an emergency.”
The mayor said the alternative could well be finding the funds to build a new span across the Kaministiquia River.
That would be a costly venture, though one Hobbs discussed with Fort William First Nations Chief Georjann Morriseau’s predecessor Peter Collins a couple of years ago.
“That’s probably one of the options, however that’s going to take a lot of dollars, probably $80 million to $100 million. That’s something that the feds definitely would have to come to the (table) in a huge way. That is option B. Option A for us is to get that bridge repaired and working.”
Morriseau said Tuesday the CN report is being reviewed, along with the original 1906 agreement that guaranteed the use of the bridge in perpetuity.
“We have to sit down and really go over a better plan,” Morriseau said on Tuesday. “The bridge not being open just isn’t acceptable. We really need to figure out how we can get it open and if we can open it.”
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