Government seeking input from residents, businesses
© Elizabeth MacDonald photo
School bus driver Pete Coffey (centre) points the finger of responsibility for safety on the Placentia lift bridge directly at Placentia-St. Mary’s MHA Felix Collins (left) and Transportation and Works Minister Tom Hedderson (right), both of whom were in Placentia last Thursday evening for a town hall meeting about the bridge. A recent evaluation of the safety of the structure led to government placing weight restrictions of 13 tonnes on the bridge.
Over 200 citizens of Placentia showed up at the Star of the Sea hall on March 1 to hear what Transportation and Works Minister Tom Hedderson and Placentia-St. Mary’s MHA and Justice Minister Felix Collins had to say about their plan for the aging Sir Ambrose Shea lift bridge.
Hedderson and Collins repeated what they had already publicly said after a private meeting two nights before with the Placentia town council.
They reiterated that cooperation by the townspeople was needed at this time.
On Feb. 27, government issued a press release stating weight restrictions would have to be imposed on the bridge following a structural evaluation that showed the bridge infrastructure was not doing well. The bridge is 51 years old and was supposed to be replaced at approximately 45 years. The Department of Transportation put out a tender in the fall, but the lone bid came in at nearly double the government’s $24-million estimate for the work. Government rejected that and were reconsidering the design when the most recent assessment of the integrity of the bridge was completed.
At the meeting, the ministers explained up front that there would be some pain to the townspeople of the area while work was being done. The bridge may be closed down at certain hours while repairs take place, resulting in people most likely having to detour through Southeast Placentia and Dunville to get from one side of the bridge to another.
As well, many businesses may be affected because of heavy trucks trying to make deliveries in Placentia.
The government ministers were clear that the meeting was not an appropriate place to start complaining or blaming anyone for decisions made in the past, but was a time to put heads together in an attempt to make this transition as easy on everyone as possible. They said they were hoping people would come forward with their ideas and concerns about the future of the bridge, and not the past.
That said, some residents still had questions for Hedderson and Collins about why this problem is arising now, when the bridge should have been replaced a few years ago.
Many people expressed concerns about the safety of using the bridge, especially for children in school busses.
Some people, such as Jane Hynes, co-owner of The Three Sisters Pub and Restaurant, expressed concerns about being able to continue to get delivery trucks into town, the state of the gravel road through to Southeast Placentia that would be the alternate route if the bridge were to be shut down at any hours. But, Hynes also expressed her confidence to the government members that they would do the best they could do for the people of Placentia, and although there would be some difficulties, she hoped they would listen very closely to people’s concerns.
Teenager and Laval student Lisa Kaczmarczyk told the government members her fears of driving across the bridge on the school bus.
“When we go across,” she said through sobs, “I wonder if this will be my last day on Earth.”
Both ministers tried to reassure the young woman that the bridge was not that bad, and if it were, they would not hesitate to close it down immediately.
Approximately 20 people approached the microphone to ask questions of the government representatives, most of whom stayed with the matter at hand and stuck within the guidelines set by government members at the beginning of the meeting.
Some others couldn’t help from asking a couple of difficult questions like why this situation was allowed to get this far when everyone knew the bridge was nearing the end of its life.
Both Ministers Collins and Hedderson quickly got back to the original point of the meeting, however, and never fully answered those questions.
After approximately two hours, the meeting had concluded with government asking for citizen’s input to be written down and provided to town chief administration officer Ed O’Keefe who will be forwarding them all to the Department of Transportation and Works.
For more details on the public meeting, please visit the Charter’s website at www.thecharter.ca for video of the meeting.