Let cooler heads prevail = looking at both sides of an issue

The Saugeen Rail Trail Association (SRTA) recently presented a lengthy deputation to Council regarding an Agreement with the Southampton Snowmobile Club that would give the Club an additional route across the Mill Creek Bridge.

To explore the situation, Saugeen Times began with the lengthy deputation presented by the SRTA and is now following that up with the ‘other’ side of the issue as presented at the last Saugeen Shores Council meeting.

According to past Town minutes, lengthy discussions were held before the Southampton Snowmobile Club Agreement Report came to Council to be passed.

Saugeen Rail Trail President Dela Avle pointed out that the trails are a main attraction in Bruce County.  “I would strongly caution that if a decision is not final that we have on-site visits to satisfy everyone regarding barriers or find other avenues for snowmobilers to access part of town.  Typically, decisions are made by discussion and compromise and everybody wants to say ‘I was part of the decision’. This is not meant to be an aggressive position but is meant to convey really strong feelings that people have in the sense of safety on the trail and on the bridge.”

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Vice-Deputy Mayor Mike Myatt said that he had attended an on-site meeting with the Snowmobile Club, an SRT member, Town staff and Bruce County.  “I’m a little confused as I thought there was a series of meetings.  There have been some concerns raised about safety, insurance and policing and about sharing a parallel trail system.  The mapping I saw is to send the snowmobilers via the Lamont Sports Park.  The partnership with the SRT and the Town has a long history and we don’t want to jeopardize that.”

Myatt said that enough questions had been raised that perhaps another ‘sit-down’ with the SRT, Town staff, Bruce County and Police Services could take place.

Mayor Luke Charbonneau said that he had also attended a meeting where an SRT member was in attendance and another where the then-President was in attendance.  “I think it would be a good idea to get a recap and how we got to this position. We want to take these concerns raised by the Saugeen Rail Trail seriously and we want to make sure there aren’t outstanding concerns.”

Acting Director of Community Services, Steve Hardie agreed that another meeting with all parties would be prudent.

Councillor Cheryl Grace pointed out that all members of Council had supported the plan for the Mill Creek bridge.  “I know I did with the understanding that this had been crafted with the participation of the Rail Trail Board and its approval. I now support going back to the discussion stage and try to work out a compromise that will satisfy everybody.”

Councilor Dave Myette, who pointed out that he and his family are active users of the Rail Trail, said that he was happy to see the safety case presented by the Saugeen Rail Trail.  “Safety was the catalyst for bringing this all together last winter.  It started with the closure of the Lolb bridge by engineering as it was deemed to be unsafe for pedestrian, snowmobile and all vehicular traffic and that was the main route across Mill Creek that the Club had used for a number of years so that snowmobilers then had to revert back to using the busy highway bridge on Concession 6.  Heavy trucks, including Owen Sound garbage trucks, come barrelling down that road and there were a number of close calls as snowmobilers tried to navigate across the busy bridge.  The safety of the snowmobiler users was of grave concern.  They and traffic were using a two-lane bridge and it was only a matter of time before something serious occurred putting the municipality in a grave liability if an accident were to occur.”

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Myette added that safety of the pedestrian and the snowmobiler users were both “paramount”. “If there is another discussion, I hope that the safety of all users is kept in mind.”  As a pedestrian trail user in the winter, he said that snowmobilers are extremely courteous and can see a pedestrian from a long way off.  “They slow right down, wave and often stop to say hello.  I have never felt close to injury.  You can hear and see them coming as they have headlights and I’ve never been surprised by one.  Also, we are talking about winter and there are no bicycles using that trail in the winter.  This was a deal crafted in good faith, passed by Council and hope we can honour that decision.”

Councillor Matt Carr, alternate for the Rail Trail, said that he would like to see things done in a timely manner.  “The Snowmobile Club is also a volunteer group that ‘mans’ and marks the trails and it would be a serious obstacle to try to re-route the trail.  We need to get to the bottom of this and I do not want to see it dragged out.  The Club is under the impression they can travel through there and will be doing prep work and creating signage now for the season.  While we want to see everyone happy, this has to happen immediately.”

Avle added that this is “.. not about the Saugeen Rail Trail being against snowmobilers.  When you are on that bridge, it is about 30 feet above the water and, with packed snow in the winter, there is no where to go.  I do cycle in winter so the bridge is an all-season used trail for non-motorized use.  If there are other ways for the snowmobilers to access town, then there should be no rush to say this bridge has to be used. This is not a competition.”

Saugeen Rail Trail V-P Ann MacKay said that a meeting should be held and include the entire Rail Trail Board.  “Only the whole Board can speak for the group.”

Mayor Luke Charbonneau ended saying that Council would hear the results of the future meeting.

Editor’s Note:  Let’s step back, take a deep breath and look at all sides before this becomes another divisive aspect for the community.