The chief of Fort William First Nation has reiterated his desire to see the future of the James Street swing bridge moved out of the courts.
Peter Collins addressed Thunder Bay city council on Wednesday evening at a special meeting that brought together the elected leadership of the city and the neighbouring First Nation. He urged the city to drop its appeal to a 2017 judicial decision that ruled CN Rail is not responsible for repairing and reopening the over-century-old structure.
The city and CN Rail have been locked in a protracted legal battle over the duty of the railway to re-establish vehicular and pedestrian traffic access after a 2013 fire. Collins said the continued litigation is stalling the First Nation's attempts at holding discussions over the proposed construction of a new bridge.
"Both [senior] levels of government will not have a discussion with us while there is litigation in the works," Collins told CBC News Thursday. He added that, based on preliminary discussions with experts, a new structure could cost "upwards of $25 million."
The CN-owned swing bridge which spans across the Kaministiquia River was the most direct route between Thunder Bay and Fort William First Nation. Its closure — and the consequent increase in traffic on Chippewa Road — has raised numerous safety concerns.
City manager Norm Gale told CBC News a decision on Thunder Bay's appeal is expected in anywhere from two to six months. He added that the city "remains committed to its position that CN is responsible to maintain the bridge in perpetuity, in accordance with the 1906 agreement."
Collins said he's worried that, despite the outcome of the appeal, the legal fight won't be over, further delaying pursuing any alternatives.
"That's not going to be the end of it and I think that's something that people have to understand," he said. "When this decision comes down, whenever it does ... it will not be the end of any court hearings, I don't believe." He added that, even if the existing bridge is reopened, it's still over 100 years-old.
"I told city councillors last night, I asked them, 'what do you think you're going to win?'"