Port Stanley Villager Jan:Feb 2020

Central Elgin unlikely to fundwater taxi

The municipalities of Elgin County and Central Elgin are unlikely to share the cost of water taxi and bus shuttle services for residents, tourists and visitors inconvenienced by the $5.2 million rehabilitation of Port Stanley’s King George VI Lift Bridge. The rehabilitation project will close the historic span over Kettle Creek from March 2020 to May 2021, dividing the community in half and presenting a challenge for downtown business owners who have come to rely on upwards of 104,000 annual tourists, spending more than $9 million a year here. The detour route across the Warren Street bridge is expected to cause delays and frustrations for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. Google Maps estimates a pedestrian on Bridge Street faces an 18-minute, 1.5 kilometre detour, hiking up Sunset Drive, toWarren, then an 18-minute, 1.5 kms detour down CarlowRoad, back to Bridge Street. That’s more than half an hour walking time from the west side of the village, to the east side. Optimistically, it’s a four-minute drive.

Both municipalities – wary of setting a precedent – have yet to commit financial support to two local entrepreneurs who have offered to provide water taxi and bus shuttle services. In fact, Elgin County has already voted down both proposals. Councilors’ dilemma is reminiscent of the situation faced in Port Bruce last year when the 1960s-era Imperial Road bridge collapsed. In that case, Elgin County spent $1.5 million for a single-lane temporary bridge across Catfish Creek. Merchants there reported business losses of up to 60 per cent in the six months it took to replace the bridge. Derek Niles has offered to leverage his expertise as proprietor at Orange Force Marine to launch a water taxi business. Jen and Scott Slack, proprietors at Erie Fun Tours, submitted a shuttle bus proposal. Crunching the numbers, however, Niles figures a busy weekend during the peak summer tourism season could attract up to 500 water taxi customers a day, at a cost to the taxi operator of about $97,000 for the weekend. He is still hoping for a “cost sharing” plan with one or both municipalities, similar to public transit funding offered elsewhere across the province, but “I’ve heard absolute radio silence. Everybody wants it, but nobody wants to pay for it. I’ve put the ball back in their court.” Jen Slack added: “We are in the same boat as Derek, no pun intended. We were going to do it only if fully subsidized and it doesn't look like that is going to happen thus far, unfortunately.” Brian Lima, director of engineering services for Elgin County, said tendering for the rehabilitation project will begin in January. A wide range of pedestrian and traffic calming measures are planned to minimize the impact, he added. “It was Council’s decision that it would not fund such a service,” said Lima, referring to the water taxi and bus shuttle proposals. “It would be precedent setting. It certainly was a difficult discussion to have.” Port Stanley Village Association President Dan Ross said: “Like everyone in the community, we were interested in Derek’s proposal, but it appears that risk management issues are a major concern and a significant potential expense. I believe that, with some extra effort, we can come together as a community and weather the storm. And at the end of it all, the bridge remains a unique and historic community asset.” Central Elgin Mayor Sally Martyn, and Councillor Colleen Row, did not immediately respond to Villager inquiries about the matter.

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