AH says no thanks to MNRF
By Chad Ingram
Algonquin Highlands will not be partnering with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry on the maintenance of Sherborne Lake Road, south of Dorset.
Winding about 12 kilometres from Highway 35 to the lake, the logging road is owned by the province and is used to access a handful of cottages, as well as by local hunters and fishermen.
The road also provides access to township-owned campsites, which generate about $16,000 a year for Algonquin Highlands.
The sites can also be reached through the township's water trails system.
The province has been looking for partner organizations for the future maintenance of the thoroughfare and at a Jan. 21 meeting, Algonquin Highlands councillors received a visit from Dave May of the MNRF.
As May explained, a number of organizations have come to the proverbial table, including the Bancroft-Minden Forestry Company, the Trent Severn Waterway and the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, along with the MNRF itself.
The forestry company has said it would make in-kind contributions, the TSW $500 a year, the MOECC $3,750 a year and the MNRF $7,500 a year, and up to $10,000 in matching funds.
May said this arrangement left a minimum funding gap of $5,750 a year for what would be a very minimum level of maintenance for a forestry road.
Additional terms and conditions for aspects such as “maintenance responsibility transitions” could be negotiated before a memorandum of understanding was signed, May said.
Councillors were concerned not only about the cost, but the expectations, work and legal responsibilities the township would assume under an agreement.
“That's a big gap for a road that doesn't belong to us,” said Deputy-reeve Liz Danielsen, who also questioned a requirement for the township to insure itself for the Crown.
“Essentially, it's to safeguard the province . . . because we're not responsible for the actual work and maintenance,” May said.
Danielsen said she didn't think the costs and risks made the situation worthwhile for the township.
Reeve Carol Moffatt said if the township entered into an agreement, to the public, it would be as good as the township owning the road.
“It will become the expectation of the public . . . to fix it, open it, repair it, put a bigger culvert in,” Moffatt said. “To me, it's a slippery slope to a place where we can't possibly survive.”
The reeve also expressed concern that if other partners were not able to follow through on their commitments, it would be “the good old township” that would be expected to come through.
Moffatt recalled that during the floods in the spring of 2013, Algonquin Highlands paid $38,000 to repair washouts along the provincially owned Sherborne Road.
“We never even got a reply to our letter requesting repayment,” Moffatt said. “So that's a bit of a problem.”
The four or so cottage properties that are accessed by using the road were at one time Crown-owned hunts camps, later purchased by residents.
“They're our taxpayers, but we didn't put them there,” Moffatt said. “Philosophically, what is our commitment to those folks?”
Councillor Marlene Kyle noted those residents already have low expectations when it comes to the quality of the road.
“They don't expect it to be a completed road,” Kyle said, adding that entering the agreement posed too much financial risk for Algonquin Highlands. “It's like putting a blank cheque out there.”
Without a partnership, the MNRF will continue to use its $7,500 budget to maintain the road until a gate 2.8 kilometres in.There is a gate at that point that can be closed if conditions become unsafe for the public.
Moffatt suggested correspondences be sent to the handful of cottage owners regarding council's decision.