The city has included more than $1 million in its budget for the Atherley Narrows bridge and trail connection, but it has no intention of committing the entire amount to the project.
As staff noted in a report, “in 2020, council approved the funds to remove the swing bridge and create photographic documentation along with additional historical research that must be completed before the removal of the bridge is initiated.
“The scope of work in 2021 is based on a current grant submission and if successful would involve the design, including contract preparation for tendering and construction of the new Atherley Bridge project.”
The city worked with Chippewas of Rama First Nation on a grant application that was submitted in 2019. The request for the $15-million project was that the federal government contribute $9 million and the province kick in $4,950,000. That means the “ultimate recipient,” as staff noted, would provide $1,050,000.
The grant application has not yet been approved.
Some council members had concerns about approving that amount of money in the budget.
“If our political neighbours are not committed, then I’m not necessarily committed to putting the full amount in there,” said Coun. Ted Emond.
Rama and the Township of Ramara have not committed a specific amount of money to the project.
“I totally support this going through once we have our neighbours make a commitment," said Coun. Ralph Cipolla. “Right now, the way I read this is the city is funding the whole project for $1,050,000. I would really like some sort of indication that Rama and Ramara are part of the deal as well.”
Coun. Tim Lauer noted those municipalities have “always done their part” in the past when it comes to providing funding for the feasibility study and environmental assessment.
“I think we should just move forward with confidence,” he said.
Coun. Mason Ainsworth felt similarly.
“It’s an important aspect of connecting our communities as well as setting the groundwork for the future. If we don’t have this ready to go, the likelihood is we’re probably not going to get substantial funding from the federal and provincial governments,” he said. “It’s not just a local Orillia landmark, but it’s something that is world renowned and it should be treated that way.”
Budget committee agreed to include the $1,050,000, which is coming from the major capital facilities reserve, contingent on a funding commitment from Rama, Ramara and other potential partners, including the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs and the Trans Canada Trail. The amount each would contribute will be determined after a decision on the grant application is made.
Ramara Mayor Basil Clarke told OrilliaMatters his municipality is prepared to support the project financially, “but not this year.”
“Our budget’s over and we came in at zero per cent, so it’s not something I would want to commit to when we’re trying to keep our taxes low,” he said. “We would like to see the bridge built; it’s just bad timing for us now.”
If a decision on the grant application comes in, that could change, he added.
Rama communications manager Cathy Edney said the First Nation could not respond to OrilliaMatters’ questions about the project because it is “part of council’s agenda items for discussion.”
All Orillia budget committee decisions will be up for ratification at today's special council meeting.