BY ANDREW SMITH
LISTOWEL BANNER STAFF
Much like the public opinion that's been voiced to date, Perth County council appears to be divided over the future of a proposed trail on former rail lands.
County council narrowly approved a motion at its June 5 meeting to proceed with investigating the trail project. That decision came after a presentation from Perth County Federation of Agriculture past president Bert Vorstenbosch, who spoke on behalf of not only the Federation of Agriculture but also the landowners who have expressed concern over the proposed trail from Monkton to Milverton.
“Perth County Federation of Agriculture, based on comments to date and responses received from landowners to this point, cannot support the County of Perth in the development of a recreational trail on the former CP rail land,” he said.
Despite two public meetings hosted by Perth County, Vorstenbosch said landowners are still not being addressed regarding the trail.
John Crowley, a North Perth landowner, added, although there are potential benefits to the trail, the concerns of affected landowners need to be recognized and addressed.
“The concerns are not a simple case of ‘not in my backyard,’” Crowley said. “For many of us that are landowners next to the rail bed, we are farmers and this impacts our very livelihood.”
Crowley outlined a number of issues about the trail, including possible liability for landowners, impacts on farming practices, and the ultimate cost to landowners and taxpayers for things like fencing and maintenance.
“Are the economic and social benefits really high enough to outweigh the financial costs?” Crowley asked. “As of right now, we cannot support the proposed trail until these issues are resolved.”
Perth County director of planning, Allan Rothwell, agreed there are a number of questions remaining over the trail development, and recommended returning to council with a further report to include cost estimates and trail implementation.
Coun. Rhonda Ehgoetz expressed concern over the amount of time county staff was spending on the proposed trail, as well as the potential liability for landowners.
“If I was a farmer and that went through my property, I wouldn’t want it,” she said. “I think we need to move this process along. I don’t want to be talking about this in a year.”
Coun. Julie Behrns agreed the matter was taking up valuable county resources, and it may be time to consider whether or not the trail project continues.
Coun. Jim Aitcheson noted the letters and comments expressed to him show support for the trail among residents is about 50 per cent, and that some of the concerns of littering and liability aren’t limited to the trail.
“I could make those same comments of people driving by your front driveway,” Aitcheson said. “I cut my ditch with a lawnmower and I’ll spend an hour picking up garbage.”
Aitcheson suggested holding off on seeking a legal opinion on the trail until necessary, but Coun. Ian Forrest said more information is better than not enough, and put the motion to seek further information on the table.
But Behrns again questioned if council has considered the long-term implications of holding the lease and rolling the trail into the county’s operations.
“I fail to see why we need to investigate further if we’re not prepared, at some point in the future, for it to become part of public works,” she said.
Forrest disagreed with Behrns’ idea to offer the trail lease to another group, noting holding the lease would give the county some control over the quality of the trail.
“I think there’s real merit in the county having the lease to this,” he said. “As soon as we abdicate that, we then have no possibility of influencing what’s going on.”
A report on the trail is expected to return to Perth County council on Aug. 14.