Town switches focus of funding application

FORT FRANCES—After being turned down two years in a row for Canada-Ontario Rural Infrastructure Fund (COMRIF) money to reconstruct the Portage Avenue underpass, the town will be applying again for aid—but this time for a different project.
Operations and Facilities manager Doug Brown said Tuesday he will be submitting an application prior to the Sept. 15 deadline to get money to replace the water and wastewater pipes along Second Street East between Portage Avenue and Central Avenue because that project has “a better chance of being approved.”
“We’ve got old pipe there. I think it’s from 1920,” he noted. “If we don’t get it done, it’s going to fall apart. Hopefully, we’re successful with the application.”
Brown said the underpass rehabilitation just didn’t score high enough according to COMRIF’s criteria.
This sewer and water project, estimated to cost $500,000, would see 400 metres of piping replaced on that two-block stretch of Second Street East.
If Ottawa and Queen’s Park approve the application, the town only would have to pay one-third of that cost (about $167,000).
< *c>Underpass funding
But Brown noted council should not forget about the Portage Avenue underpass reconstruction. And since it appears COMRIF funding can’t be obtained to fix it, the town should access funding it already has to complete the $1.9-million project.
Under a revised funding plan, Brown proposed the town possibly could pay for it by:
•using its $883,409 in “Ontario Move” transportation funding which it received in April;
•submitting an application to the federal government to be authorized to use 2005, 2006, and 2007 federal gas tax revenues toward this project (a three-year total of $540,433.26); and
•utilizing existing reserves (or borrowing for long-term debt) to fund the remainder of the project, which is forecast at $476,157.74.
Brown said the tender for the project should go out in October and then be awarded by the newly-elected council in December or January, with work starting in May so it can be completed by the fall.
“We have sat back for too long waiting for grant money,” Brown said in an interview yesterday. “We’ve got some grant money available. Let’s just push forward and get it done.
“This thing’s got to be done. It’s going to fall apart,” he stressed. “The bottom line is that asset has got to fixed.”
“It’s about time we did something about it,” Coun. John Albanese said at Monday night’s meeting.
But Coun. Tannis Drysdale, who agreed that switching the aim of the COMRIF application was appropriate given the fact the town had yet to get money for the underpass project, felt the current council should not commit to the underpass project at this point.
Instead, it should wait until the new council comes in to let them make that decision.
Coun. Roy Avis agreed, noting when he first got elected to council, he and the other new councillors at that time had to deal with a decision made by the previous council to demolish the old arena and build two new ice surfaces (which didn’t end up happening).
But Fort Frances CAO Mark McCaig said the current council will have to decide whether or not to include the underpass project in the 2007 budget, which they’ll have done at least in draft form prior to the new council coming in.
The new council then will be the one voting on the finalized 2007 budget.
“If the new council agrees, then they agree,” McCaig noted.
Coun. Neil Kabel said the current council could give Brown the approval to move ahead with the planning without necessarily committing to the project right now.
Council ended up directing to have Brown prepare a COMRIF application for this September, as well as make the aforementioned preparations for the underpass project to get done (such as submitting an application to the federal government for permission to use gas tax money) in anticipation of council deciding what to do during the 2007 budget process.
  If the underpass project does end up going ahead next spring, the work will be done in two phases—the west side first, then the east side—and will take about 16 weeks to complete.
It will consist of replacing 180 metres of concrete from Third Street East to Fifth Street East and putting in new retaining walls, as well as a new sidewalk and handrail on the west side of the street.
The work also will include modifications to the railway abutment structures (installation of soil anchors), putting up new chain link fences, and upgrading to the storm sewer system (pump house and piping).
The existing roadway also will be reinforced and modified, with a view towards having an alternate truck route to the north end sometime down the road.
One lane of traffic will be open at all times during the underpass work, and at no time should residents be forced to take alternate north-south routes (such as McIrvine Road or the emergency railroad crossing at Victoria Avenue).
(Fort Frances Times)