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This article was published 12/8/2017 (311 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A potential bridge to cross and a bridge to nowhere were topics of discussion at an informal gathering Thursday night in the Municipality of Two Borders.
With the backdrop of an incomplete bridge beside them, the council in Manitoba’s southwestern-most municipality held court with 50 residents at Coulter Park Pavilion to discuss another bridge entirely: the planned construction of a span near Lyleton, some 20 kilometres away.
Council is at an impasse, said Head of Council Debbie McMechan, on whether they should replace Culbertson Crossing on Road 161W between Road 3N and 4N.
The bridge was in place for decades before culverts replaced it. The 2014 flood washed out two of the culverts.
The engineering firm has proposed a new bridge, saying the culverts are inadequate for high water levels. But some members of council dispute this, saying the increased cost isn’t necessary.
Although the funding, estimated at $1.5 million, would come from federal and provincial governments, some municipal councillors made the argument money shouldn’t be spent on a rarely used bridge.
"They don’t want to spend federal money if they feel that it’s not needed," McMechan said. "They’re practical, they’d rather do something that’s maybe not got all the bells and whistles."
McMechan is personally in favour of a bridge. She argues it’s best to spend money on the right solution than repairing mistakes down the road.
"But the contests between us at the table were getting kind of heated, so we thought maybe we should step back and let the people have their say."
Thursday’s meeting presented differing views, she said. Residents suggested a low-level crossing, which is only accessible when the water flow is low. They voted on options with as many people choosing a bridge as compared to the number of people who voted for a low-level crossing or culverts combined.
Still, McMechan felt the exercise proved valuable.
Regardless of what councillors decide, the province’s Emergency Measures Organization must sign off. If they agree, federal and provincial governments will pay at a 90-10 ratio.
The bridge is eligible to be replaced because of the 2014 flood.
While the crossing was the purpose of this meeting, a number of ratepayers wanted to discuss the partial bridge right beside the park.
Questions were posed about the incomplete bridge that’s supposed to cross South Antler Creek. However, municipal officials said the matter is in the hands of the province’s deputy examiner of surveys, who will make the final call on whether the bridge is touching private property.
Sharon Moore and her husband Sidney argued the municipality is building this bridge on their land.
In an interview with The Brandon Sun last winter, the couple said they warned the municipality for months that a new bridge would land on the southern edge of their parcel. They said the municipality only inquired about purchasing it when the bridge deck was close to completion.
The old bridge, southeast of the junction between Highway 83 and Road 10N, was torn down in May 2016 because it was deemed unsafe after the 2014 flood.
McMechan said in an interview this week the dispute has frustrated residents, a sentiment shared at Thursday’s meeting.
"There’s people who depend on it," she said. "They have got to go all the way around by the highway."
She shared the story of a firefighters trying to respond to an agricultural fire who were delayed a few weeks ago because they couldn’t cross.
The initial property survey was done more than a century ago and she feels neither the municipality nor homeowners can say unequivocally where the property line is.
"What I do know is that the municipal road … today has a private landowners’ stake in the middle of it."
She adds she hopes the provincial surveyor reaches a resolution quickly.
"I really like the premier’s words, where he says that Manitoba is open for business. Opening up this bridge will make Two Borders a little bit more opened up for business."
In an email earlier this week, Sharon Moore repeated her belief the municipality caused this issue by ignoring the couple’s objections and only negotiating when construction was well underway.
"They had plenty of time to make the bridge right … they have spent thousands and thousands of dollars being a bully, rather than sitting down with us to fix the situation," she wrote.
Both parties have lawyers representing them.
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