Thunder Bay

Local knowledge important to Nipigon River crossing study, mayor says

Officials with the Ministry of Transportation are holding the first open house to get feedback on a study for a second way to cross the Nipigon River, and one area mayor says that kind of engagement will be key.

Richard Harvey says any potential crossing will be made through challenging terrain

The Ministry of Transportation, along with consultants with WSP Canada Group, are examining the feasibility of a second way to cross the Nipigon River. The existing bridge failed in 2016, severing the Trans-Canada Highway. (Gord Ellis / CBC)

Officials with the Ministry of Transportation are holding the first open house to get feedback on a study for a potential second way to cross the Nipigon River, and one area mayor says that kind of engagement will be key.

The ministry, along with consultants from WSP Canada Group Limited, are working on planning, preliminary design and class environmental assessment to review whether there needs to be a second road crossing at the northwestern Ontario river.

It comes in the wake of the 2016 failure of the Highway 11-17 bridge over the Nipigon River. The incident severed the Trans-Canada Highway for 18 hours.

Ensuring the ability for vehicle traffic to cross the river is very important but creating a second access in the local environment will be difficult, said Nipigon Mayor Richard Harvey. That's where, he said, local knowledge of the area will be crucial.

"One of the things that does become important in anything like this is local knowledge," he said. "Often you bring in engineers, consulting companies from outside who really don't understand the local ground, they don't understand the local environment that we're dealing with."
The Nipigon River Bridge is located about 100 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, Ont. (Google Maps)

An open house in Nipigon on March 1 will give the public the first opportunity to look at several "proposed planning alternatives," or different ways of addressing a second access across the river, Annemarie Piscopo, a spokesperson with the ministry told CBC News in an email.

Those options will "address local, provincial and national needs," she said.

Throughout the process, including subsequent public meetings, the options will be evaluated considering transportation, the environment and cost. That evaluation will take public feedback — including that of municipalities, Indigenous communities, businesses and other members of the public — into account, Piscopo said.

Waterways, wetlands, Canadian Shield all natural barriers

Any potential new crossing will have to consider the varied northwestern Ontario terrain near Lake Superior, Harvey said.

"There are sensitive waterways, there are sensitive wetlands throughout the area ... there's also the fact the river itself is a very significant waterway in regards to a lot of the fish habitat," he said. "Even just the rocky terrain throughout a lot of this area, there's a lot of areas where you simply could not successfully put through a road."
Richard Harvey is the mayor of Nipigon, Ont., the closest municipality to the Nipigon River bridge crossing. (Richard Harvey)

"They have to find that right area that it's possible to put a road but also that will have a minimal impact on the environment."

That complexity will mean local stakeholder input is crucial, Harvey said.

"As people come to a meeting, they're able to share what they know about specific places and each person [who] comes in will have a different area that they'll have some very intimate knowledge about," he said.

"All of that has to be gathered together."

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