“….the committee has been trying to scrape up money wherever it can. “We have gone to the Federal Government and there are no infrastructure programs currently available but there may be next year and the people on the bridge committee are willing to wait. But we are determined to build this bridge. We are hoping the province will come up with $600,000 which is a paltry sum when you compare that to all the other programs in the province.”
How much money would you take out of your jeans and commit to making sure an 85 year old bridge stays open? $1,000? $10,000? For a group of residents in Whitemouth the number has swelled to more than $250,000, reported Steinbach Online Reporter Adi Loewen.
Meet Harm Sikkenga, a local dairy farmer who lives with his family on the north side of the Whitemouth River just a stones throw from the town of Whitemouth. He and a group of 8 families have been forced to take a seven mile detour to get to town following the closure of the Water Street Bridge. The bridge was originally donated to the municipality by a local dairy farmer who also happened to own a brewery in Winnipeg. It was damaged by ice during the big flood in 1997.
RM of Whitemouth Councillor Martin Saxler says over the years the council of the day decided the bridge was not worth maintaining and since then the bridge slowly deteriorated until it was finally condemned in November 2011. “After doing some inspections to the bridge last year the current council decided we need to speak to the insurance company to see if it was allowable (to keep open) and the insurance company pretty much told us we need to shut it down. So all traffic has been halted on the bridge.”
He adds the biggest problem is they have now cut off part of the community.
“These people now have to make a 14 km round trip to get to town. We have a couple of large dairy farmers on the other side which creates a problem shipping their milk. 90% of the residents on the other side live within a quarter mile of the bridge. By renewing that bridge and crossing we can eliminate seven miles of road that need to be maintained with gravel on a regular basis and allow most of the traffic onto a provincially maintained road within a quarter mile on the south side of the bridge.”
Sikkenga agrees the need for the bridge continues to be strong as it serves as a connecting link to local farms, a campground, golf course, airport and numerous other recreational activities. Plus it is a rapid path for emergency vehicles. Town kids who used to bike across to work on local dairy farms now must be driven the seven mile one way trip which makes it too expensive to justify the work. Once the bridge was closed the families experienced a hike in their insurance premiums because the fire department now had much further to go during an emergency.
Kelvin Kirby is a volunteer firefighter who lives just across the bridge from the town. He says the closed bridge is a real inconvenience. “When I get a fire call I am doing something a bit illegal. I bike to the bridge, lift my bike over a barricade, bike across, lift it over another barricade and then bike to the firehall. My response time has increased considerably.”
“I understand the bridge was donated to the municipality on the understanding they would maintain it,” he states. “The municipality has been getting a bit of a free ride in a sense. They didn’t have to put in the initial capital for a bridge so we are asking them to do it now.” His wife Amy says there is a bit of disconnection without the bridge. “A large number of the people on the north side of the bridge do quite a bit of volunteer work in the community of Whitemouth and we still really feel a part of the community and that’s why we want to reconnect.”
Arlene Pluchinski is a paramedic who lives in Whitemouth and says the bridge is important. “For our ambulance service to get to the other side it’s a delay for anyone there because now we have to drive all the way around the highway and come up the gravel road to meet the people’s emergency needs. If we were to come across the bridge we would cut that time by about 15 minutes. When you are talking cardiac arrest, every minute counts. The bridge has been here for many years and if people don’t realize how important it is they need to take a second look. I think the community needs to band together and get this done.”
Sikkenga met with neighbours and the community and formed the Water Street Bridge Committee. The eight families pooled their resources and came up with $250,000. “We first met with local council and offered to put a new deck on the bridge and do the work and pay for the material by ourselves. They didn’t accept that and said there were still liability issues with the insurance company. The people then committed to paying half of the original estimated $600,000 replacement cost if council would pay the other half and council agreed.” With later donations from people in town the total is now close to $300,000.
This group hired an engineering firm to assess the bridge replacement and discovered it will actually cost about $1.2 Million. Saxler says the municipality is willing to pay for a quarter of the cost if residents pay another quarter.
Sikkenga says now they are trying to raise the rest of the money to get that bridge built. “There was a meeting with Vic Toews this spring and he advised us to go to the Federal Government. Then we found out they don’t go for small projects like this. The projects need to be several million dollars for them to even think about helping out. Then we went to the Province and there is a new program this year which we applied to.”
Saxler adds the committee has been trying to scrape up money wherever it can. “We have gone to the Federal Government and there are no infrastructure programs currently available but there may be next year and the people on the bridge committee are willing to wait. But we are determined to build this bridge. We are hoping the province will come up with $600,000 which is a paltry sum when you compare that to all the other programs in the province.” A decision is expected before the end of August.
If you would like to donate towards the Whitemouth Bridge Committee the money will qualify for a tax receipt. Donations can be made at Sunova Credit Union.