Fort, Falls still waiting on bridge data Issue creating media buzz

As the sale of the international bridge here creates more and more of a buzz in the North American media, Mayor Dan Onichuk said Tuesday the border communities’ next move will depend on the current bridge owners.
“We’re waiting on the mills to turn the financial information over to a broker,” he noted.
“The last thing that happened was the Border Community Organization formally sent a letter requesting that information as soon as it is released so we can review it.
“The province has agreed to, once we get it, take a look at that financial data and work with us on what would be an appropriate price,” added the mayor. “And then we go from there.”
“We’re in that odd position where the municipal government, provincial and federal government don’t typically move as fast as the private sector. But once that financial data is released, obviously we’ll want to get it analyzed and get our act together as quickly as we can,” Mayor Onichuk said.
“I don’t know if it’s a good thing it’s been delayed. I don’t really know the answer to that, I guess, until we get it,” he added. “But we’ve certainly got to be on top of it and do our best to put something together, and get it [the bridge] into public hands.”
The story of the bridge for sale, and how the two communities want to see it move into public hands, has been widely reported in both Canadian and U.S. media recently, including a story in last Tuesday’s Globe and Mail.
“It’s getting a lot of play. It’s a major issue and this is an opportunity for us to finally get that bridge into public hands at the end of the day,” said Mayor Onichuk.
“By keeping it up in the media, once we do get that financial data, it will be awfully difficult for the province and federal government not to be involved,” he added.
Also last week, NDP leader and local MPP Howard Hampton raised the issue during Question Period at Queen’s Park last Tuesday (Feb. 28), where he urged the province to do whatever is necessary to purchase the bridge so it becomes a public-owned asset and not a privately-owned toll bridge.
MPP Norm Miller (Parry Sound-Muskoka) also asked if the province would assist the municipalities in purchasing the bridge or itself take over ownership of the bridge as “this is a very important gateway to Northwestern Ontario.”
“We are very much aware of this issue,” replied Transportation minister Harinder Takhar. “Actually, we met with the mayor of Fort Frances back in November, along with federal officials.
“I understand the bridge is now for sale. My officials talked to the mayor this afternoon [Feb. 28].
“He has not made any formal request for assistance of any sort at this point of time, but I want to assure the member that we’ll be more than pleased to work with the mayor and the local municipality, and even across the border, to sort out this issue.”
Takhar later reiterated “the mayor has not indicated what kind of assistance he needs. If he needs any assistance, we will be more than pleased to work with him.”
But Mayor Onichuk said it appears Takhar was misinformed about previous communications between himself and Ministry of Transportation officials.
“That’s not accurate,” the mayor said. “We did jointly ask the province and the state to do two things for us. First, review all the technical data and report back to us on the structure and the status of the bridge. They did that.
“The province and the state worked together on it, and put together a report that was ultimately reviewed over in International Falls on Jan. 31,” said Mayor Onichuk.
“In that request, we also asked for them to analyze all the financial data and assist us in coming up with a reasonable price for the bridge. So, I sent a letter to the premier asking for that, and sent copies to several ministers that are affected by this bridge, and they’ve agreed to that.
“I don’t know where Mr. Takhar is coming from.
“We did ask and they’ve been working with us. Obviously, he’s not getting briefed very well,” the mayor added.
The International Bridge and Terminal Company and the Minnesota Dakota and Western Railway, along with their parent companies, Abitibi-Consolidated and Boise Cascade, announced the international bridge was for sale back on Nov. 3, saying it was not a core business asset.