A petition is questioning the use of $600,000 from federal disaster funds for reconstruction of Gunn’s Bridge near Millvale.
The bridge was damaged in post-tropical storm Dorian.
The bridge and its causeway cross the Trout River Estuary. The crossing connects the unpaved Trout River Road (Route 239) to the McCourt Road (Route 240), a clay road that loops around a forested area between South Granville and Millvale.
Sharon Labchuk started the petition, which asks the federal government to take back its funding commitment. As of Tuesday, it had more than 1,100 signatures.
When she moved to the area 27 years ago, Labchuk recognized the causeway as old technology and had always hoped it would get removed when it reached the end of its useful life.
“Even then, we’ve known that causeways and rivers are bad for the ecology of the river. They’re something we did long, long ago without thinking it was bad. Now we know better,” said Labchuk.
“This was an opportunity, finally, that I thought that the province could use to do the right thing for this river and take out the causeway.”
Some in government say the bridge provides access to a boat slip on the McCourt Road side of the river, but Labchuk sees room for improvement there as well. She described the slip as a “hole bulldozed in the riverbank”.
“That slip itself is really bad news because it funnels the water from the roads as it rushes down the hill directly into the river.”
While Labchuk said it is too late to stop the construction, she continues to argue against using federal disaster relief dollars to fix up a “bridge to nowhere”.
“It’s a disaster relief fund. There are probably many more worthy causes in Canada – possibly today, but definitely when disaster strikes in other provinces – where this money could be legitimately used to address something that went wrong in the course of a natural disaster," said Labchuk.
"This bridge is not, with any stretch of the imagination ... something that needs to be repaired urgently.”
The Guardian made repeated requests to speak with someone from P.E.I.’s Department of Transportation, Infrastructure and Energy, but no one was in touch by press time.
Instead, the Guardian received an email with bullet statements from provincial bridge engineer Neil Lawless.
- Replacing former bridge as it served its useful life, and was damaged during Dorian.
- New bridge span (ie: water opening width) to be 3.5 metres more, clearance from high tide to underside 1 metre higher, and installing two 4-foot diameter culverts through the causeway - all these three measures to aid tidal exchange.
- All traffic detoured throughout entire project duration.
- New bridge cons't started 11 May, target completion 3 July.
- For public safety reasons, removing the structure is required.
In January, Labchuk said provincial crews made modifications to the damaged bridge so snowmobilers could cross and access the unpaved roads on the other side of the river.
She has since learned snowmobilers are some of the key users of the crossing.
“I don’t want this to be an anti-snowmobile issue,” said Labchuk.
“There’s a bigger issue here. This is taxpayers’ money and it’s being used, I would say, sneakily. They’re subverting the purpose of the disaster relief fund by applying for money for it.”
To view tender for Gunns Bridge structure replacement, click here.