On Monday evening, the Town of Fort Frances passed a resolution that calls on the Government of Canada and the provincial government to immediately intervene in the sale of the International Bridge.
This intervention would require the Canadian government to work with their American counterparts to operate the International Bridge as a public asset and remove tolls.
The International Bridge that links Fort Frances to International Falls, Minn. was constructed in 1908 and owned by the mills on both sides of the border.
With the Fort Frances Paper Mill almost completely demolished, its owner Resolute Forest Products said they are considering selling its 50 per cent share of the International Bridge. The other half of the International Bridge is owned by Boise Inc.
Fort Frances Mayor June Caul said they are calling on both the federal and provincial governments to meet with council and administration of the municipality to brief them on their efforts and plans to protect the International Bridge being a vital economic and community link.
According to tolling statistics, the International Bridge sees more than 800,000 vehicle crossings annually. This includes tourists travelling through northwestern Ontario, local trips for employment, business, education, medicine, emergency response, the importing of goods used in the mining, agricultural and forestry sectors and commercial traffic serving the resource-based economy west of Thunder Bay.
This is not the first time the Fort Frances council adopted a resolution associated with the operations of the International Bridge. In 2005 and 2006, council adopted two resolutions calling on the Government of Canada and the Ontario government to acquire the International Bridge and make it a public asset without tolls, but these calls went unanswered.
In Ontario, the tolls on international bridges are authorized by the provincial Minister of Transportation under the Toll Bridges Act, but both bridge owners have placed their toll collection on the Minnesota side, according to the resolution.
This act allows the provincial government to enter into agreements with Canadian or foreign authorities for the joint financing, construction, or operation of any international bridge or tunnel.
According to the resolution, a meeting held Jan. 31, 2006 revealed that one span of the International Bridge had only 15 to 20 years left in its lifespan before it needed replacement at an estimated cost of $8 million USD.
Based on this finding in 2006, it was understood that tolls were being charged by the bridge owners in order to rehabilitate it in the 2020s when it is required by the infrastructure. However, the resolution states that Resolute now indicates its wishes to divest itself from ownership after collecting tolls for many years.
Caul cited the resolution and said these tolls have become a growing concern for Fort Frances residents and the surrounding communities and deter American locals from crossing into Canada to support local businesses.
The resolution states that the Town of Fort Frances and its neighbouring communities are concerned that new private ownership of the International Bridge will result in higher tolls or that public access to the bridge will be compromised for safety and financial reasons.