Town staff say new regs leave old repair styles in the lurch
BY SAMUEL PICCOLO
Every now and again a single moment captures the world as it is. One such moment occurred last week during a Pelham Town Council meeting, when Council’s resident Old-Schooler, Marvin Junkin, had a lengthy exchange with the Town’s Director of Public Works, Andrea Clemencio, over the failed culvert on Poth Street.
Public Works advised Council that a further engineering analysis was needed before a full replacement plan could be drafted and approved. Previous analysis had shown that soil under the bridge, which has been closed since April, cannot hold new culverts, and so special supports will need to be installed.
There is a problem with this, too, as surveyors have already drilled down some 15 metres without finding sufficiently strong ground in which to plant the supports. Public Works concluded that $5,000 to $10,000 in additional funds were required for further, deeper, testing of the soil.
Junkin was not pleased.
“I’m a little puzzled,” he said. “Why [do] we have to spend more money on a geotechnical investigation…the reason those culverts failed didn’t have anything to do with twisting or leaning. The fact of the matter is that after forty years they rusted out, their life was done.”
Junkin wondered aloud why such a simple job, which in his mind should be a matter of unearthing the old culverts and putting in new ones, was chewing up so much time and money. He further mused that it seemed unlikely that in the past 40 years there had been a major geological change to the earth’s crust near Poth Road.
But what has changed, Clemencio emphasized, is the law. There is now provincial legislation by which municipalities must abide concerning safety and longevity. The engineering firm conducting the study has determined the base needed to support the provincially legislated loads, and it has yet to find suitable bedrock at 15 metres.
“We have to follow the rules, and an engineer has to stamp those plans, and we’re just not able to bend on that.” Clemencio said.
Junkin was undeterred.
“I’ve lived out in the country, I’ve been a farmer my whole life, when you have something that lasted for forty years—and I’m sure they didn’t do geotechnical studies at that time. They probably just went down to what they thought was solid ground, put two feet of gravel, and put in these culverts. It just blows my mind that something that was done forty years ago without all these surveys…lasted its lifetime, and it just sort of irritates me that the rules say that we now we have to spend, well, what are we at, engineering costs right now?”
Somewhere in excess of $40,000, answered Clemencio. She added that Poth Street had experienced a unique failure, and that further study was the only alternative to a permanent closure of the bridge.
When Councillor Rybiak asked about the timeline, Clemencio maintained that if the Town was aggressive, the street could be repaired this year.
Mayor Augustyn recounted that the provincial regulations so vexing Junkin were a topic of conversation during a recent meeting with the parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Transportation. The discussion, further elaborated on by CAO Darren Ottaway, concerned the unfeasibility of spending large sums of money on rural bridges with traffic of just 50-100 cars per day. During their presentation to the ministry, Ottaway said that Pelham’s argument was similar to Junkin’s: towns should not have to be held to the “highest of bridge standards in this type of context.”
The Ministry’s response, according to Ottaway, was that it is possible to “deviate” from the regulation lifespan of a bridge—75 years, a deviation that Clemencio said that the Town intended to take on Poth Street—but that in doing so the municipality takes on all legal liability.
“In today’s litigious society, we get sued if a squirrel drops an acorn on someone’s windshield, let alone something that happens on a bridge,” Ottaway said. “It’s not that we’re building it [to provincial standards] out of practicality, it’s that we’re building it to protect ourselves from litigation. This is really what, at the end of the day, this is about.”
“And, service, of course,” the Mayor said.
“And service, yes,” Ottaway agreed.
In the end, Clemencio made it clear that the cost of the further testing was to be covered by savings from another bridge report. Without further debate, Council voted to receive the report and await the further, deeper, geotechnical study, the results of which are expected within a few weeks.
If and when the Poth Street culvert is replaced, it will be under New-School rules.