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Guardrails anger Sulphur residents

Dennis McNeil and David Stark look at a road section that's dangerously eroded. VOICE PHOTO

Barriers installed just before road closure, no explanation from Town

BY SAMUEL PICCOLO
The VOICE

The recent installation of guardrails on Sulphur Spring Drive has angered residents of the street, further exacerbating their frustration that the Town has not repaired a section that has been closed for nearly two years.

During the week of February 12, guardrails of approximately 80 and 120 feet were installed on either side of Sulphur Spring between Orchard Hill Road and Luffman Drive, just before the part of the road that is closed. Part of the guardrail hugs the road as it crosses a bridge, though a large portion of it is not at the water crossing. The road is straight at this point.

Last week, several residents of the street gathered together to walk along the road and physically observe the area.

“The big white elephant is the closed road,” said David Stark, a medical doctor who has lived on the drive for some two decades. Near Luffman Drive, part of the road collapsed into the adjacent creek. Ever since, the residents said, the road has eroded more and more, likely meaning that the cost of any fix has also increased.

In spring 2016, Stark and other residents of the road were told by the Town that the road closure would be “temporary.” But the 2018 Capital Budget pushes the repair of the road to at least until 2020, and Councillor Richard Rybiak has said, “[It looks like we are] going to continue to keep Sulphur Springs closed for the foreseeable future.”

“I don’t understand why they would spend money on putting up guard-rails on a straightaway when they should be spending money on fixing the road,” said Roberto Polillo, who owns property between the guardrails and the closure. There are three property owners beyond the guardrails before the road dead-ends at the closure.

Stark is one of two homeowners on that section, and said that putting up guardrails for tens of thousands of dollars while not fixing the road “makes you wonder how decisions are being made.”

Town Public Relations and Marketing Specialist Marc MacDonald, and Town Director of Public Works Andrea Clemencio did not respond to or acknowledge multiple requests for comment. The Voice asked the Town for its rationale in installing guardrails on this stretch of road, and the cost of the work. The Voice also asked when the project was approved, since residents said they were recently told by Town staff that the guardrails had been approved a couple of years ago.

An engineer consulted by the Voice, while acknowledging that he hadn’t done guardrail work for a while, estimated that the cost was between $200 to $300 per foot, making it likely that the project cost at least $40,000, and possibly upwards of $60,000.

Marty Melnick, Brian Tighe, Dennis McNeil, David Stark, and Roberto Polillo stand in front of the recently installed guardrail. VOICE PHOTO

Marty Melnick, Stark’s neighbour, said that no one who lives in the area wanted the guardrails—or even knew that they were going to be installed.

“When I want to change something on my property, I have to tell everyone within a hundred miles to see if they have any objections,” he said. “And the Town didn’t even tell us that it was going to happen?”

Dennis McNeil, who has lived on Sulphur Spring for 45 years, said that he’s never seen a car go off the road where the guardrails have been erected.

“They put them up on a straightaway,” he said. “It doesn’t make any sense.” McNeil said that over the years he has helped to pull vehicles out of the creek that runs alongside the road, but at a different point in the road where there is no guardrail.

As it stands now, the part of the road where McNeil says he has seen cars go over the edge is dangerously eroded, with asphalt hanging over a crumbling bank. As the residents walked over it, past pylons marking the danger, water squished up through the asphalt beneath their feet.

“This part of the road isn’t going to last much longer,” said Melnick. “Then we’ll be trapped in on both sides.”

Melnick also pointed to the trees cut last autumn on the bank of the creek near the guardrails. In October, a Town contractor cut vegetation on the bank using a tractor’s side-arm, leaving behind jagged stumps of three-inch saplings.

At the time, Town Public Relations and Marketing Specialist Marc MacDonald said that work was “very minor” roadside sightline maintenance, and that the tree cuttings were part of a five-year plan to remove diseased ash from the area.

But an arborist who saw the cut saplings said that the work was not proper tree removal and instead appeared to be a cutting back of any tree encroaching on the roadside.

This cutting worried Melnick.

“The roots of those trees have to be there to help keep up the bank,” he said.

The state of the road has residents worried about emergency situations. Already, Stark said, an ambulance had to be called for someone who fell into the creek, and it was delayed for half an hour because the driver was unaware that the road had been closed.

“I’m a medical professional—I know that thirty minutes is the difference between life and death,” said Stark.

Stark said that he often has to rush from his home to work, and that if the road is blocked off at the other end, he’ll be unable to get to an emergency.

“There was a tree that came down across the road, and it took two hours before it was opened up again,” he said.

Stark said that he is also troubled by the difficulty that will likely be faced by a fire truck in travelling down the road to respond to a fire call, and speculated that the value of his house had greatly diminished.

The residents gathered were familiar with the closure of another road in Pelham, Poth Street. A resident of Poth, Bruno Villalta, says that Town CAO Darren Ottaway told him that he could “sell his house and move” if he wasn’t satisfied with the road going unrepaired.

Ottaway said of Poth residents, “They’ve exercised their constitutional right to live wherever they want, and yet now their expectation is that everyone else has to pay for that. I don’t think that’s fair.” Ottaway called a home in the area a “bad investment.”

“You chose to live there,” he said, addressing a hypothetical Poth resident. “That’s your problem.”

Sulphur Spring resident Brian Tighe was upset by Ottaway’s suggestion that a home in a rural area of town is a “bad investment.”

“Why is it a bad investment?” said Tighe. “Because you don’t have enough money to fix the roads?”

Ottaway told Council to ask, “Is this repair going to create wealth? Do the nine parcels generate wealth?”

Stark called this a shortsighted view of the issue, and said that he thought the Town’s failure to repair the road “would create a lawsuit.”

The Niagara Region has informed residents of Sulphur Spring that it cannot collect garbage at their homes because of the difficulty involved in turning around the truck.

“We’ve got to leave it in front of our neighbour’s driveway [down the street]. The racoons pick it apart and it looks like a dump,” said McNeil.

McNeil’s home is heated by oil, and he said that one provider has already declined to deliver to him because of similar difficulties in turning the truck around at a dead end.

Sulphur Spring Drive is routinely called one of Niagara’s most scenic routes, and Stark said that before the road was closed, autumn days would sometimes bring a hundreds of sightseers in cars.

“Sure, we used to complain about the traffic then,” he said. “But the road closure is much worse. People don’t realize all that the road closure entails.”

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