Petition circulating to curb toll hike

A campaign to prevent an increase in toll fees on the international bridge here is beginning to take shape.
Petitions lobbying against the potential increases are being filled out at a number of area businesses by business owners and residents alike.
“It’s ridiculous. We’ve travelled on bridges all over Canada and there is not one bridge that gouges us like this bridge,” charged Diane Noonan, whose husband, Paul, is co-owner of La Place Rendez-Vous here, where one copy of the petition sits.
“It’s horrible. It’s not good for the economy and it’s not good for tourism,” she argued. “We both support the position of the petition.”
Evidently, they are not alone. Seven pages already have been filled with signatures at the Rendez-Vous, and at least as many at Canadian Tire.
“Personally, I think it’s outrageous to think of raising the costs of crossing that bridge for anybody,” said Canadian Tire owner Ray Engelbertink.
“I’m not for it. Not as a business, but personally, I think it’s ludicrous. I think that bridge has been paid for several times,” he added.
During last week’s council meeting, the committee of the whole tabled any recommendations concerning a possible toll fare increase because no hike was imminent over the summer.
“Basically what can be done is nothing to the degree that if they decide to put in an increase, they can,” Mayor Glenn Witherspoon said yesterday.
But he added just because the companies involved have avoided any increases since 1985 does not mean a jump now is fair. “I hope the people do put in a lot of petitions and a lot of pressure,” he said.
Because the toll booths are not under the jurisdiction of the municipality, council has no control over the increase. The bridge is owned by Abitibi-Consolidated Inc. and Boise Cascade through their wholly-owned subsidiaries–the International Bridge and Terminal Company and M. D. & W. Railway.
Meanwhile, NDP leader and local MPP Howard Hampton also is encouraging residents to express their anger over any possible toll increases.
“The time to complain is now before any increase has been made,” said Hampton, who also suggested people write letters to Abitibi- Consolidated and Boise Cascade.
“More than one million people cross the bridge from International Falls to Fort Frances each year,” he noted. “That means the owners of the bridge already make substantial amounts of money from its operation.
“I can’t imagine what justification there could be for a toll increase.”
Even if there is no increase, Hampton noted having to pay toll in U.S. funds means a 40 percent plus hike for Canadian commuters.
For his part, Dan Cousineau, chairman of the local Business Improvement Area board of directors, said he’s frustrated by the lack of information available.
“I guess it’s a good idea to do things before it’s too late but at the same time, it’s like fighting a battle with one arm tied behind your back,” he said.
“Maybe it’ll come to the point where if they’re going to raise fees, we’ll have to pressure the politicians to build a new bridge,” he added.
Over in International Falls, there also has been some concern.
“We were hearing some opposition,” said Falls Chamber of Commerce executive director Kallie Briggs. “What we’ve done is the chamber discussed it and it was turned over to our policy committee.”
As previously reported in the Times, M.D. & W. general manager Garry Neumann said a toll adjustment is under consideration but that a final decision won’t be made until this fall.
In the meantime, the toll booth on the U.S. side is expected to open shortly, meaning tolls will be collected southbound on the Canadian side and northbound coming into Canada.
The booth on the Canadian side is still up to be closed in the fall, with the U.S. one collecting tolls for vehicles entering Canada only.