Deputy Premier Deb Matthews was in St. Marys on Tuesday morning to announce an OCIF grant worth almost $200,000 for rehabilitation to the Green Bridge.
By Dan Rankin
Tuesday morning in Millenium Park, Deputy Premier Deb Matthews received a history lesson about Water Street’s “Green Bridge,” before announcing almost $200,000 in Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund (OCIF) money to rehabilitate the 118-year-old pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge.
The $198,450 grant will cover one third of expected costs in the project.
Speaking before the announcement, Heritage St. Marys committee member Mary Smith commented on how the bridge has had a knack for being something of a misfit during its long history.
“When it was built in 1898, some people were shocked,” Smith said. “Why was steel being used? What was wrong with the traditional limestone? The Water Street Bridge, at that time, was considered too modern.”
In more recent years, of course, there were some who thought just the opposite – that the Town should replace the old Trout Creek crossing at Water Street with a two-lane bridge. “A few years ago, we were in grave danger of losing this bridge,” Smith said. “Some considered it too old, too shabby, too hard to repair.”
But rather than a push by the community to replace it, Smith described what took place as an “amazing and unexpected groundswell of support” for the old bridge.
Smith credited the engineers B.M. Ross and Associates Ltd. for discovering a means to rehabilitate the bridge while preserving its heritage attributes. “Council was persuaded that this method was quicker, much less disruptive, and much more cost effective than replacing the steel truss structure with a modern bridge,” she said. “This exciting announcement of funding and support of the rehabilitation of the Water Street Bridge makes the occasion incredibly significant to heritage supporters.”
St. Marys Mayor Al Strathdee noted that this was the second time he’s had the chance to host Matthews, who is also MP for the riding of London North Centre. “We’re very happy to have her again,” he said, before joking, “if she keeps making announcements like this, we’re looking forward to her next visit to St. Marys.”
Matthews said that, on her first official visit to St. Marys last March, she had a somewhat heated discussion with local municipal leaders about the importance of having predictable, stable funding for municipalities. “The other issue that we heard about is that municipal leaders knew we had a really strong commitment to building infrastructure in the province, but they wanted to make sure two things: that Toronto didn’t get it all, and they wanted to make sure that outside of Toronto got the fair share of funding,” she said. “They wanted OCIF to actually get stronger and bigger.”
In response to demand, the province has increased the size of the OCIF from $100 million to $300 million, Matthews said. “Two thirds of that money will be predictable stable funding that will be distributed by formula to municipalities, and one third of it, $100 million, will be community-based,” she said. “The Green Bridge is going to get that facelift it needs, because it is such an important part of the infrastructure of St. Marys and, I’m learning as I’m here, it’s also part of the heritage of this community.”
It’s a part of a $160 billion infrastructure spend, the largest infrastructure investment in the province’s history, she said. “We have not been keeping up in the past with making investments to maintain the existing infrastructure and keep up with that,” said Matthews, noting that it’s also expected to create 110,000 jobs.
As infrastructure investment was also made a high priority by federal Liberals in the last election campaign, Matthews told the Independent that she is excited to have a federal partner with the same priorities. “We’ll just be able to do a lot more by working together,” she said.
She called what has happened in Flint, Michigan, with aged pipes leaching lead into the city’s water system, “a disgrace” and “a reminder that we have to continue to make investments in infrastructure.”
“Some people say we shouldn’t be spending it, they say ‘put your fiscal house in order, you’re running a deficit – you shouldn’t be spending on anything other than absolute necessities,’ and we’ve rejected that,” she told the Independent. “We are getting back to balance. Next year we will have a balanced budget. But, we’re doing it as we make investments, and when an investment in infrastructure is putting 110,000 people to work, that’s a good investment.”
The Mayor thanked the province for its decision to help the Town, “rehabilitate not only a heritage structure, but an important piece of infrastructure for us.” Strathdee called the bridge an “integral part of St. Marys” and “an important part of the fabric of the community.”
Perth-Wellington MPP Randy Pettapiece also attended the announcement Tuesday in St. Marys.
“Roads and bridges are absolutely critical in our area,” Pettapiece said in a statement Tuesday. “I want to congratulate the Town for making this historic bridge a priority, and for their successful funding application.”