It’s no longer a question of whether the Cull Drain Bridge will remain in place over the eponymous waterway located on the outskirts of Bright’s Grove but how and when exactly it will be removed.
At a Thursday morning (August 7) special meeting devoted to the subject, Sarnia City Council unanimously approved a staff recommendation that the structure be removed, adding to the motion (and now by-law) that staff report back as soon as possible on various options for demolition.
That meeting was initiated after a report from Engineered Management Systems red flagged the structure as part of a visual inspection of all Sarnia bridges that is done every two years. The Cull Drain Bridge was last reported on in 2012. At that time, the structure was said to be unsafe and was subsequently fenced off.
Michael Wallrap, the engineer who wrote the most recent inspection report—the Cull Drain Bridge was the first on a list of bridges to be inspected this year—told City Council that the issue has, if nothing else, become more urgent.
Wallrap, a professional engineer who signed a “Safety Critical Report” dated August 1 (a day after the bridge was inspected by M. Serban), told City Council at the special meeting that nothing has been done to the structure since it was last inspected (although the structure was fenced off). His report pointed out that the underside of the bridge can still be accessed from all four corners and from the water. “Apart from the obvious hazard to public safety, collapse would also block the waterway which is at least partially navigable,” wrote Wallrap, who pointed out that all warning signs at the east are in poor condition and some of the signs at the west are also damaged (with graffiti).
Wallrap was asked by Councillor David Boushy if he could provide a range of the costs involved in removing and replacing the structure. Wallrap said he could not provide that information given that his firm does not do actual bridge restoration or repair work, citing a conflict of interest.
Steve Loxton, a Sarnia resident and member of a “Friends of Cull Drain Bridge” group, also spoke, urging Council to pursue an option that would include a “non-destructive” removal of the bridge, with specific interest in the trusses, which are said to have historic value. The bridge, Loxton said, has “proven culture heritage value, as determined by the Sarnia Heritage Committee and its potential as a highlight in any recreational trail along the lakeshore.”
Tony Barrand, a representative of Bluewater Trails (a committee of Sarnia City Council), told Council that the group would support an eventual restoration of the structure, citing in particular the interest in extending a network of trails with the ultimate intention of connecting to municipalities throughout Lambton County and eventually to the Trans-Canada Trail Network (those words taken from the Bluewater Trails website.)
A third speaker was Jared Fedora, who is also a member of Bluewater Trails. Fedora, who is running for a seat on City Council this fall, said “there appears to be a pattern of excessive stalling”—referring to what he said was “continued inaction for the two years since pedestrian traffic was blocked.”
Fedora said “a piece of Sarnia’s history has been ignored.”
Councillor Mike Kelch pointed out that there were others not able to be present at the special meeting who would be concerned with the City getting involved with another expense.
“They are concerned that the City is already running a deficit of $1 million this year. They are also concerned with the costs of eventually having to take care of a new bridge.”
Mayor Mike Bradley, in response to Loxton indicating that he plans to meet with a local crane company (Sterling Cranes) to look at the bridge to determine the cost of removing the structure for restoration purposes, cautioned for the need for City staff to be present at all times. “We are a public body and we need to follow proper procedures.”
Bradley later referred to an ultimately unsuccessful plan to restore the original Duc D’Orleans ship as evidence of the need for City involvement in whatever happens with the Cull Drain Bridge.
“Let’s make sure we know all the answers to all the questions” before a decision on restoration is taken, said Bradley.
City Council directed staff to proceed with the research needed to fully cost out various options, among them the non-destructive removal of the trusses for future restoration. It is expected that those numbers would be available for the next regular City Council meeting on September 8, 2014.