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CN bringing 1906 James Street Swing Bridge agreement before judge

THUNDER BAY -- CN Rail plans to bring the James Street Swing Bridge issue before a judge, saying neither the city nor Fort William First Nation have negotiated in good faith.
( file photograph)

THUNDER BAY -- CN Rail plans to bring the James Street Swing Bridge issue before a judge, saying neither the city nor Fort William First Nation have negotiated in good faith.

CN issued a statement Friday afternoon, announcing they had filed a case in Ontario Superior Court asking a judge to determine the company’s exact obligations for the bridge under the 1906 agreement.

The company and city, who both inherited the contract originally signed by the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway and the Town of Fort William, had been involved in negotiations to reopen the span since the Oct. 29, 2013 blaze closed the bridge to vehicular traffic.

CN had submitted multiple offers during that time period which were all voted against by Thunder Bay city council.

“If CN had known there was no real intention to negotiate, we would have sought the assistance of the courts earlier, saving months of uncertainty for the residents of Thunder Bay and the members of Fort William First Nation,” said Olivier Chouc, company vice-president of law.

In the statement the company also took issue with how city officials had publicly dealt with the matter.

“Though court action…will be lengthy and costly for all involved, CN sees no other way to resolve the issue and stop the false and unjust attacks on its reputation by the City of Thunder Bay and FWFN,” it reads.

City manager Tim Commisso said he's not surprised with anything CN does, suggesting company officials must not have read the city's own recent release to take the matter to court.

"The fact that they sent (a release) out late on Friday says a lot in my view. The city made it perfectly clear ot CN that their take it or leave it position on indemnification, unwillingness to provide detailed costing and the requirement for Fort William First Nation to release any of their existing or future rights were all items that would not be deal-breakers," Commisso said in an email response.

"But they never once budged off their position."

Mayor Keith Hobbs was even more succinct.

"I believe CN has wasted enough of our time on this file. Their media release isn't worthy of a response. A judge will now decide the validity of the 1906 agreement," Hobbs said late Friday night.

CN said the latest offer, which was unanimously rejected at a Feb. 2 council meeting, had the company proposing to share the rail bed with vehicles, with CN footing “the lion’s share of the significant investment.”

It also said the federal government had offered to contribute the estimated balance and that the city and Fort William First Nation were not expected to contribute financially. The company would also pay for the maintenance of the centre lane.

Following the vote on that offer, city officials and Fort William First Nation Chief Georjann Morriseau held a media conference where they said they would bring the issue to court.

City officials had publicly said CN’s offer included Fort William First Nation relinquishing any past, present and future lands rights claims against the company.

It also said the offer would have voided the 1906 agreement.

Mayor Keith Hobbs also questioned the safety of vehicular traffic sharing the centre lane, saying the potential for backlog could create havoc.

That position is disputed by the company.

“The city claimed there would be safety issues with sharing road and rail. This is not true. Such structures exist and use signalling and automated gates to safely control traffic flows,” the statement reads.