Disappointment over recreational trail study

Mo Laidlaw
More than 60 people attended the presentation given by Génivar on recreational trails in the municipality of Pontiac, on 16th February in Luskville, but no one looked pleased. Alain Larose, a farmer from north of Quyon, expressed the general feeling of frustration, saying that after all this time and “money wasted” on a study, the municipality is no farther on.
Rail-line option recommended
Pro-mayor Roger Larose introduced the three engineers from Génivar: Claude Marquis, Brigitte Loignon and Roger Merleau, and explained that they had selected three options for a bicycle trail.
Mr. Marquis explained that “recreational trails” in this study means “bicycle trails”, there’s nothing new for snowmobilers or ATV drivers. Snowmobiles may use local and provincial trails however, and the link to Aylmer is the Ottawa river. This trail is for families on bicycles, who like fairly flat trails, away from traffic, and 10 km is probably a maximum daily distance. Car parks and services such as phones and toilets need to be located about every 10 km for these users. The trail is not for commuting, racing or long-distance touring bicyclists; they prefer existing paved roads.
Mr. Marquis described the purpose of the study as providing a link between Aylmer and the MRC Pontiac’s PPJ. There were three stages. First the search for potential routes, then councillors surveyed owners affected by the different routes. Finally a detailed study of construction costs of three suggested routes was made, and a recommendation. He explained that Génivar's mandate was technical, the only criteria used was construction costs. Legal constraints such as land ownership or agricultural zoning had no weight.
The recommended option is to use the privately owned rail-line, except in Breckenridge, where the route deviates onto Sumac, Lilas, Kawartha, across farmers’ fields, and back to the rail-line north of Elm. Because councillors provided information that many owners are not in favour of giving up land for this trail, options 2 and 3 are proposed as alternatives.
Tourist attractions
The engineers displayed maps showing some of the tourist attractions in the municipality such as bed and breakfasts, dépanneurs, Luskville Falls, and churches. The maps showed many residential “beaches” as sites of interest.
The first hint that the former rail-line would be the favoured option came when its advantages for a bike path were listed. It was claimed that the rail-line is the only route close to villages, businesses and services. Connecting links from the rail-line to Quyon along Wolf Lake Road, and on to Ontario along Ferry Road, and into Luskville along ch. de la Baie were described.
It was explained that children under 12 are not allowed unaccompanied on roads or shoulders where the speed limit is over 50 kph, so a highway route would require a separate path alongside. Where the highway is narrow, ditches would have to be put in culverts with a path on top, which is expensive.
Construction costs
The recommended rail-line route is 38 km long and costs $1.06 million. Access routes to villages and attractions: $100,000. Bridges, embankments, stabilization and fences: $500,000. Signs, rest areas and car parks: $180,000, for a total of $1.84 million. Then 25% is added for contingencies; taxes, $350,000; $190,000 for land purchase; and finally another 30% for fees: engineers’, surveyors’, financing, environmental studies, legal costs etc. The grand total for the recommended route is $3.69 million.
Option 2 is a separate trail at the side of Terry Fox (partly in Gatineau), from the southeastern tip of the municipality near the Ottawa River, then cutting across to Smith-Leonard and Rivière. From Rivière to Wyman, option 2 takes the former rail-line. This route is 37.5 km at a cost of $1.22 million. Land acquisition is less than option 1 at $150,000, but the other costs and percentages are the same, for a grand total of $3.94 million.
Option 3 is the same as option 2 as far as Rivière. From Rivière to Kennedy the route follows a zigzag of municipal roads, again as a separate trail at the side. From Kennedy to Wyman this option follows the rail-line. This is the longest route at 43.8 km, for $2.1 million. Only $80,000 is allowed for land purchase, but the other costs and percentages are the same as option 1, for a grand total of $5.5 million.
Taxpayers’ questions and comments
Who will use it? What are true costs?
Mario Allen asked if Génivar had figures on the number of local residents that would use a trail, and the number of tourists, and what are the costs for maintaining cycle paths. Mr. Marquis replied that potential users were not surveyed, nor were economic benefits of different routes assessed. Annual maintenance costs $1000 per km; about $40,000 per year. Provincial grants are now available for maintenance as well as capital costs, so it would not fall completely on Pontiac taxpayers.
Gérald Desjardins wanted to know if Vélo Québec, rural cyclists, skiers, or any experts in environment and agriculture had been consulted. “No, this study was just to find the lowest cost route to build a trail between two points.”
Eric Poulin reminded everyone that the rail-line no longer exists. It is now privately owned. He felt that acquisition costs presented were unrealistically low. Also, in the agricultural zone, CPTAQ must approve change of ownership and use, and in 2000 an appeal of a CPTAQ decison was overturned by the Administrative tribunal (TAQ). The TAQ ruling allowed farmers and others to buy the rail-line rather than let it be used for a trail.
Hubert de Gonneville said, “The 148 is in terrible shape and we’re going to spend over $3 million on a bicycle path?”
Pierre Robillard said that in 2000, Commissioner Dion told the “Riverains” group of owners that a study of bicycle trails would include social and environmental impacts as well as construction costs, which it did not. He felt that people would not be interested in cycling along Lilas, Kawartha and other residential cul-de-sacs, in the residential area south of Maple Lane.
Anthony Mach said, “it isn’t interesting to do zigzags.” He felt that Sumac and Terry Fox, from the river to the 148, are “really steep” for bicycles.
No regional consultation
Tom Tracey asked about a route along Mountain Road at the edge of Gatineau Park. Mr. Marquis replied that there is not room for a trail and it would be too hilly, and discussions on cost-sharing with the NCC were outside Génivar’s mandate. To other questions he responded that: Génivar did not contact Gatineau officials to discuss connection points for Pontiac’s trails that would fit in with regional plans or reduce trail length, or discuss cost-sharing for a trail along Terry Fox, the municipal boundary. Génivar did not consult the ministry of Transport about future plans for highway 148, or MRC des Collines police about personal- or traffic-safety issues, or the Nature Conservancy about the Breckenridge Creek Nature Preserve, before writing the report.
Wisha Mach, who lives in Aylmer and has a cottage in Luskville, offered to arrange a meeting with Gatineau councillor Richard Jennings to discuss regional issues. She said that Pontiac residents park their cars and use the bike path network in Aylmer. “We don’t mind, but it would be nice if Pontiac returned the favour.”
Illegal motorized vehicles
Marie-Claude Pineau felt that opening any through route is an invitation to snowmobilers taking a short-cut, as they already do along McKay Road and Maple Lane in Breckenridge. “The police say they can do nothing unless you get the plate number and a photo of the driver.” Jack Lorand agreed. Just north of Breckenridge Creek he hears skidoos, ATVs and motorbikes going by after 10 pm on Saturday nights. “If the rail-line bridge over Breckenridge Creek is rebuilt they will just drive more quickly. The police take 45 minutes to come.”
English please
Cathy Allison asked who paid for the study, and hoped that an English version of the report would be available for consultation by taxpayers. Marc Fortin of the CLD replied that the municipality paid $5000, and the remaining $30,000 was paid by regional economic development and sports groups such as CRDO, CSEO, CED and URLSO.
Nick Matechuk, a businessman from Quyon, suggested that in future, separate French and English presentations should be made. (English summaries were given as they went along, but questions and answers in French were not translated, giving non-French speakers in the audience the impression of a predominantly French presentation.)
What’s next?
Jack Lorand wanted to know what happens next. “We pay taxes, which went up 20% last year, and councillors’ salaries.” Roger Larose replied that council has to go to the people and get their consent. “The municipality cannot just take property, they have to ask owners first. It is up to individuals to contact their councillors, not to expect councillors to go door-to-door,” asking their opinion.
Mayor Bruce Campbell closed the meeting by thanking everyone for coming out.

The report summarized
Copies of the report are available at the municipal offices or from councillors, for consultation. The report looks impressive, in two 3 cm thick binders, but is easy to read, as the report itself is only 34 pages (in French), including maps, photos of other trails, engineering drawings of details of trail construction, and bibliography. The bulk of the binders is taken up with annexes. Annex A is an 11 page list of some of the affected owners. Annex B has 113 pages of photographs taken on routes studied. Annex C contains 94 detail sheets, one for each section of route studied. Annex D is 3 cost charts, a useful tool for comparing the 3 options. Annex E will be an account of the public meeting. Annex F, the second binder, contains 8 plans of the area studied, from Aylmer to Wyman, with trail routes.
Owner survey
The councillors’ survey of owners on potential routes is on pages 19 & 20 of the report. In summary: There are no routes in Ward 1, North Onslow. In Quyon, several owners would give up part of their property for a cycle trail. In Ward 3, from Wyman to Kennedy Road, several owners would give up part of their property for a cycle trail, but there is opposition for some sections of rail-line. In Wards 4, 5, 6 and 7, east of Kennedy Road, many owners are against giving up part of their property for a cycle trail on the former rail-line or across fields.
The recommendation for option 1 is on page 33 of the report. In summary: This is the route using the former rail-line, except in Breckenridge, where it deviates onto Sumac, Lilas, Kawartha, across farmers’ fields and back to the rail-line north of Elm. Because of the disagreement of many owners, options 2 and 3 are proposed as alternatives.
After a route is chosen, various further studies will need to be carried out such as soil studies, permission obtained from the CPTAQ, and environmental studies near watercourses or where the rail-line may be contaminated, for the ministry of Environment, so it would be two years before construction could start.