Prospects for replacing the Big Creek bridge on the Long Point Causeway this year look good.
But Norfolk County might not know what it can do with the rest of the causeway until 2021.
The engineering team at Parsons, of Oakville, shared word of the potential delay with Norfolk council on March 10.
Project engineer Arianne Cowx said the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is prepared to set a precedent by allowing the destruction of “critical habitat” on land under its jurisdiction.
DFO has indicated it will issue a permit for the Big Creek bridge replacement for reasons of public safety. Cowx added that permits for the rest of the 3.2-kilometre project are less certain due to the large amount of habitat involved.
“In initial discussions with DFO, they agreed to proceed with the permitting process for the bridge work due to existing safety risks and limited impact to critical habitat,” Parsons said in a PowerPoint presentation.
“But (they) would not proceed with permitting for the remaining causeway reconstruction due to the proposed extent of impact to critical habitat (approximately 15,000 square metres).
“If the impacted area cannot be sufficiently reduced there is a risk that permits (and) approvals may not be granted and roadway construction per the approved environmental assessment may not proceed as planned.”
Permit negotiations are scheduled to resume this summer. Also at the table are the Canadian Wildlife Service, the Long Point Region Conservation Authority, the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, and Transport Canada. Parsons says collecting the necessary approvals and permits could take as long as 18 months – if they are granted at all.
Jason Godby, Norfolk’s acting general manager of public works, warned council recently there are no guarantees the $12-million causeway rebuild will get underway this year.
As a cost-saving measure, council wants to replace the Big Creek bridge — which is falling apart and has been temporarily patched — at the same time it rebuilds the causeway. If the project destroys critical habitat, Norfolk will have to develop similar, permanent habitat in another location.
Delhi Coun. Mike Columbus, chair of the LPRCA, finds it interesting that federal and provincial agencies are driving a hard bargain while record-high water in the Great Lakes basin is having a tremendous and often devastating impact on habitat over a large geographic area.
“When Mother Nature does it, it is OK,” Columbus said. “But when humans do it, it is not.”
Parsons also advised there is potential for unexpected costs with a project of this magnitude. The firm was given the green light to conduct additional core sampling and survey work to ensure the county knows how much muck and organic material will have to be removed to reach a solid road bed.
“This is going to be the Super Bowl of municipal projects,” Port Rowan Coun. Tom Masschaele told the Parsons team. “I want to ensure everyone is on board as this information comes in.”