Trail tunnel near Blyth left to G2G Inc.
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Huron County Council has left the construction of a tunnel just outside of Blyth along the Goderich-to-Guelph (G2G) Rail Trail up to the trail’s parent company as costs have risen in the interim.
Director of Economic Development Cody Joudry spoke to the issue at council’s Feb. 17 meeting, detailing his due diligence report on the proposal. The project, which had been presented to council years ago, outlines the construction of a tunnel under County Road 25 just west of Blyth. The tunnel will allow users to access the G2G trail on the other side of County Road 25 without having to cross the busy highway.
In Joudry’s report, he stated that initial estimates for the work were deemed by the Public Works Department to be low. Originally thought to cost between $275,000 and $300,000, Joudry said better estimates now assume the work will cost as much as $465,000. He said costs for material have risen and the early estimates did not include project management and guidelines and end treatments, which would be necessary for public safety.
G2G Inc., the trail’s parent company, already has $100,000 committed to the project, which is the joint funding from Huron County and Regional Tourism Organization 4 (RTO 4), but would require additional funds for the project to proceed. In his report, Joudry said G2G Inc. has indicated that the project would need to proceed further into the planning process before the organization could secure additional funding. He added that the organization has a number of private investors who are willing to contribute, but have not officially committed at this stage of the process.
Joudry also warned council of several risks associated with constructing the tunnel, which the county would own if it is constructed. He said that if G2G Inc. were to dissolve years down the road, the county would then be responsible for its continued maintenance and eventual replacement or demolition when the tunnel reaches the end of its life.
He also said that if the county were to move ahead with construction before G2G Inc. could secure the funds, and if the organization is unsuccessful in procuring those funds, the county would be required to pay for the construction or the demolition. He also said that having a volunteer-led organization responsible for the tunnel could leave the county at legal risk if an accident were to happen in the tunnel.
In order to mitigate those risks, Joudry suggested the use of a surety for the construction and maintenance of the tunnel.
“A method to mitigate the legal liability could be for the county, through the Public Works Department, to be the lead on the construction and maintenance. The funds could still be raised through G2G Inc. as part of their planned fundraising activities. Once all funds were raised and given to the county, construction could proceed,” Joudry said in his report to council.
He then presented council with two options. The first would ask G2G Inc. to raise the remaining funds and then lead on construction and maintenance through an agreement with the county. The second option would leave the organization to raise its own funds and then, once all of the funds have been raised, it would provide the county with the funds so the county could manage construction and maintenance.
Council preferred the second option, saying the money needed to be in place before proceeding with the project.
Bluewater Mayor Paul Klopp was critical of the project, saying G2G Inc. assured council that it wouldn’t be asking for taxpayer dollars for the trail and that has changed several times, with costs rising consistently. He said the county has to ask what it’s getting itself into and that it was time to step away and let the group do its own thing.
Huron East Mayor Bernie MacLellan said that he had seen the economic benefit to the trail in his municipality, but agreed that the county should own the tunnel itself to keep things simple.
Goderich Mayor John Grace says things have changed significantly in the last 10 years, saying trails and corresponding economic activity are the new economy and the county needs to be supportive. He added that he, like MacLellan, had seen the direct impact of the trail in his area and that it would only continue to grow in the future.
North Huron Reeve Bernie Bailey agreed, telling councillors about the revival of the Rutabaga Festival in Blyth. He said that while he was there, dozens of cyclists who came to the village via the trail and came into Blyth to tour the Hubbard rutabaga factory and take in other aspects of the festival.
Bluewater Deputy-Mayor Jim Fergusson said his wife has hiked all over the world and says that even the most successful and beautiful trails in the world subsist on contributions from users and never use public funds. He felt this local trail should be no different.
Council moved ahead with the second option, leaving it up to G2G Inc. to raise the money and then come to the county for construction and maintenance.