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Council holds off on second proposal for Customs facility

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The debate over a new Canada Customs facility here continues after town council decided to set aside a second proposal--at least for now.

During a special meeting last Thursday, council debated the potential for a second toll hike and what impact accepting the latest proposal would have on plans to build a new bridge across Rainy River here.

Coun. Roy Avis said he was reluctant to accept the proposal because the companies funding the project indicated tolls on the existing bridge linking Fort Frances and International Falls would go up by an undetermined amount if construction went ahead.

“I can’t understand why a company of that size can’t say what a toll increase would be,” said Coun. Avis, who received support from other councillors to hold off on the proposal.

“When we made the decision to hold off on this, we wanted to see what the companies were doing with the tolls . . . we’re stuck in a catch-22,” noted Coun. Bourgeault. “I agree with Coun. Avis that the tolls have not been addressed for the future.”

There also was some concern from council over the toll rate changes that already have been announced by the bridge owners.

“If you don’t have a swipe card, you’re looking at a round trip of $9. That is not a good welcome to Canada,” argued Coun. Deane Cunningham.

And Coun. Struchan Gilson voiced his concern with the entire proposal altogether, and questioned why plans to build a less-expensive, on-bridge facility had not been drafted.

“I’m no expert but this one we have in front of us now really bothers me, I’m just not happy with it,” said Coun. Gilson, who explained the area in the proposal is often cluttered with traffic and will only be more confusing with the new off-bridge facility.

But Coun. Tibbs urged council to go ahead with approving the facility. “We should vote on the resolution today in a positive manner and move on,” she argued.

Mayor Glenn Witherspoon also voiced some concern in delaying the resolution.

“It’s like any business,” he said. “If you want to recoup a cost, this is a way of doing it. No one has to go on a bridge if they don’t want to.”

“The problem is there’s no alternative,” countered Coun. Cunningham.

The resolution to accept the proposal if six conditions were met was amended to include two more requiring Abitibi-Consolidated and Boise Cascade to provide a written document ensuring they would not object to the building a new bridge in the future, and that the projected increase of the future tolls be announced prior to council’s approval.

The six conditions already required from the town before the latest proposal could go ahead included:

•no cost to the town;

•that all land exchanges be of equal value;

•a decision on which roads would be given “connecting link” status;

•the final architecture and survey measurements be supplied;

•a number of estimates be finalized; and

•formal public presentation meetings be held by the proponents.

If approved, the new facility would be built along the south side of Church Street between Central Avenue and Mowat Avenue.

The new facility would sport four primary inspection lanes (three for regular traffic and one for commercial traffic), as well as a secondary inspection station to be built on the northeast corner of Mowat Avenue and Church Street.

The difference between this proposal and the one council previously had approved is the location of the Ontario tourist information centre and the secondary inspection area.

At the cost of an extra $750,000, the tourism building was to be moved to the northeast corner of Mowat Avenue and Church Street, with the secondary inspection station to built on its current site.

But because of a funding shortfall, the tourism building will remain on the northeast corner of Church Street and Central Avenue.

If approved, it will be up to the International Bridge and Terminal Co. and M.D.&W. Railway to determine the contractors and timeline for the project.

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