I arrived at the Norquay Community Centre at about 3:40, departing at about 7:15 and Was greeted at the door and given this nice shiny brochure about the Disraeli Bridge Project. More about the brochure later.
Once past the door the visitors are greeted with a series of posters providing information about the bridge and overpass. The following are some highlights of a couple of the posters:
Key aspects of Disraeli Bridges. This poster tells everyone what those key aspects are, a few of them:
"-a minimum of 4 lanes remains open during peak travel times.
-new AT bridge so pedestrians and cyclists have an easy crossing over the Red River.
-bridge and overpass designed to accommodate future expansion to 6 lanes."
Next poster is Bridge Alignment, a few highlights:
"Consultation indicated that keeping the bridge open during construction to minimize traffic disruption, as well as a separate active transportation corridor were priorities for Winnipeggers."
Further down the poster states "Here are the top 6 reasons for choosing this option", some of which were:
"-allows 4 lanes of traffic to be open at peak travel times during construction.
-allows for cost effective re-vamping of the existing vehicular bridge into a low level separate active transportation bridge adjacent to the new river bridge.
-minimizes land acquisition requirements in surrounding neighbourhoods."
The next poster was titled Land Acquisition some highlights:
"Some land needs to be acquired for the project. And that
-every effort is being made to minimize property disruptions
-9 residential and 10 commerical non-residential properties may be affected with most involving the aquisition of narrow strips or slivers of land. More about slivers in a bit.
-the owners of all the affected property have already been notified."
Noted that nowhere on this poster was the word expropriation mentioned.
Further posters depicted the landscaping, the AT bridge, environmental, Transport Canada has to sign off on the project as does Fisheries and Oceans.
* Spoke briefly with Ruth Marr of Marr Consulting.
I asked Ruth Marr why residents are only being notified now about changes to the bridge when it's too late to have any input. Marr's response was "the negotiations were proprietary information". Which means nobody was allowed to say anything until the contracts had been signed. I was also informed that "this is not a consultation but an informational session".
I was told by Ruth Marr that 17 000 brochures had been mailed out, yet we know some listeners of the Great Canadian Talk Show,received nothing. When Ruth Marr was told this her reply was "they were delivered by Canada Post".
* Spoke with Stewart Anderson City of Winnipeg Real Estate Development.
I was informed that only one house MAY be expropriated in its entirety. Other properties will see the loss of slivers of land. Definition of a sliver of land according to Anderson is 1m or 3ft.
When asked how much this was going to cost, the reply was "I don't have any numbers". or "it hasn't been costed out yet".
* Spoke briefly with Bill Ebenspanger, the City of Winnipeg Public Works bridge engineer.
Ebenspanger stated that the best solution is "to build a new bridge not rehabilitate the old one". When asked about this open house I was told that "it's an informational session and that the contracts had already been signed".
I asked who was ultimately responsible for this project and was told that Plenary Roads Inc (the consulting firm) was responsible, I asked if Plenary Roads had the final say in the bridge, was told that they supplied the designs. Asked again who had the final say on the bridge and was finally told "city council".
I asked about consultation and that there were residents who didn't have any idea this open house was taking place and was told that flyers were sent out through Canada Post.
I asked Ebenspanger if he thought there had been good consultation to which the reply was "the level of consultation has been good".
Asked about security features on the AT bridge, he said it would be well lit with straight site lines and should be able to be seen from the larger bridge.
* Spoke briefly with Councillor Jeff Browaty who states that "there is not a demand for a $125 million dollar bridge. Browaty thinks instead of having this new AT bridge, the Louise Bridge would be a better choice. When asked about security on the bike bridge Browaty did admit he would go over it during the day, but not at night.
* Many of the residents of the area are not happy with these new plans.
One gentleman wanted to know why Lazarenko and Pagtakhan weren't at this open house. He wanted the Mayor to be there as well. This gentleman said that they'd never been consulted about these plans.
Another resident called the bridge a disaster bridge, that there would be bottlenecks getting onto and off of the bridge. She noted that homes on Henderson aren't being expropriated.
This lady went on to say that "expendable people don't count". That this area is a "garbage dump for the city".
As for the bike bridge, this lady would rather the money be spent on cleaning up the bike path along the river by Magnus. Her family has to watch people urinate on her front yard, the drug dealers and prostitutes along that bike path. She said she can't go out into her yard and all because the bike path was changed and runs right in behind her house. She would rather the money be spent on fixing the problems her neighbourhood now faces.
I was chatting with a couple of residents asking them about the bridges. I asked about the brochures and what they thought of them. The two ladies said "they don't say anything". I showed them a copy of one of the open house flyers for AT and asked them what the flyer said and then look at the Disraeli brochure ... both agreed that the flyers said absolutely nothing.
* The turnout for this open house informational session was approximately 70, a significant decrease from the previous night at the Bronx Community Centre which saw a total of over 360.
All in all there were a lot of unhappy people who attended this open house. But the question to ask is, will their voices be heard?
Oh where to start. How about informational sessions.
- I was told not once but twice that this was not a consultation. Ah but at the door you get a piece of paper that asks how you heard about the meeting, if you were a resident or commuter etc and then goes to ask "what aspect(s) of the Disraeli Bridges Project brought you out to tonight's information open house?" Aha there is that information word again. Then we are given a couple of lines in case we'd like to make other comments to share with the consultants. Why? When this bridge project it would seem is a done deal.
- Everything I heard from the residents indicate they don't want this bridge, it isn't what was agreed to in the last set of open houses.
But we are assured by the consultants that this bridge was indeed what was agreed to, which is why of course it is such a surprise to the neighbourhood.
- The nice shiny brochure does tell people that for these informational sessions you can stop by and ask the consultants and city people questions. Tried that. Asked all kinds of questions.
This is what I heard: from the consultants, who tell us they can't answer the question go talk to the city. From the city we are told we can't answer those questions go talk to a consultant. I felt like a puppy chasing it's tail.
(Actually I think pulling the teeth out of a great white shark without losing a limb would have been easier than prying information out of the consultants and the city.)
I've attended an awful lot of open houses in the last few months so I do have a feel for these meetings. I've often been critical of some of the plans so it's only fair to give Kevin Nixon his due and a pat on the back (Kevin do try not to fall over in shock please), I was never told by him "go talk to the city" or "go talk to the consultants". When I asked questions I was given an answer and sometimes that answer was "I don't know". To give the AT consultants credit if they didn't know an answer they said so and would often escort me or another person over to someone who might have that answer.
I never heard the AT people say "not my area go talk to another person". I can't say that about the Disraeli open house. There was a serious case of pass the buck syndrome at this meeting.
And when you did manage to pin somebody down it was an almost painful task to try to get answers to my questions.
- Security features on the new AT bridge.
Jeff Browaty did say he wouldn't travel that bridge at night. But "the bridge is going to be well lit with straight line of sight." No cameras though.
Will emergency vehicles be able to get onto the AT bridge? Marty you asked that very same question of Mike Marasco a consultant with Plenary Roads Inc., his reply was basically was they didn't know. I'm guessing this was an issue that wasn't raised. Why wasn't it raised?
Marasco told me that "policing, public safety is not our area". That would be the job of the police, that is of course assuming they could get a car onto the bridge which Marasco told Marty that the bridge was wide enough.
Why wasn't this considered? What if someone has for example a heart attack..fire trucks are usually the first on the scene, will that truck be able to fit on the bridge? This doesn't even mention that on the smaller AT bridge you are isolated. If you are lucky someone traveling on the big bridge will notice an emergency. No panic buttons are planned.
- One woman told me they already have problems along the AT path by her house on Magnus. Bridges offer shelter for the homeless, but it's "a straight line of sight. With lots of lights" too.
- All in all did I find this informational session informative? Not in the slightest.
I felt I was being TOLD what was going to happen regardless of what anybody wants.
- The city people and consultants felt that public consultation had been good. Which is why Eliminator RC found out from PCL Constructors that they were facing expropriations.
Yup I could go on but I have to go digest the sales job I was handed at this open house. Anybody got any Rolaids?