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Council adds voice to calls for 502 cell service

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The Town of Fort Frances is adding its voice to a call from the Township of Emo for the provincial government to address the lack of cellphone coverage along Highway 502.

During Monday night's Town Council meeting, councillors received a letter from the Township of Emo calling on Premier Doug Ford to address the condition of cellphone service along the highway that runs from Dryden down to Highway 11. The letter is also addressed to Kenora-Rainy River MPP Greg Rickford, Minister of Transportation Caroline Mulroney, Minister of Infrastructure Laurie Scott, Tbaytel president and CEO Dan Topatigh and Bell Canada president and CEO Mirko Bibic.

In the letter, the township notes that cell service along the 502 is almost entirely lacking, which can lead to extremely dangerous situations when travellers get in an accident or encounter other difficulties.

“Ontario Provincial Highway 502 is a winding, desolate stretch of road over 120 kilometres long that travels through the Canadian Shield, connecting the Kenora and Rainy River Districts, which is frequented by many American tourists in the summer, and travelled by many more Ontarians in the winter for business, family, sports tournaments and more,” the letter states.

“Individuals who are in or discover accidents cannot call for help via 911 or emergency service numbers... there are lives at stake every day driving Highway 502, and it is the direct responsibility of the Ministry of Transportation, the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Ministry of Energy, Northern Development and Mines to ensure the safety of its citizens on this provincial highway.”

The letter also references the provincial government's “Up to Speed," the broadband and cellular action plan for the province of Ontario. In the plan, the government recognizes the need for internet and cellular connection and promises to "bring better broadband and cellular services to all parts of our province,” in part by launching a new program to expand access to unserved and underserved communities. The letter from the township of Emo notes that the government spent a considerable amount of money on another network to address issues similar to those along the 502.

“Last year, the province of Ontario provided over $70 million to the Eastern Ontario Regional Network's project to virtually eliminate coverage gaps in the region,” the letter reads.

“To, as Northumberland-Peterborough South MPP David Piccini said, 'improve connectivity so that people can feel confident and safe, at home and on the road.'”

Emo mayor Harold McQuaker noted that the letter says all it needs to say to the government. He's driven the road many times and knows that cell service is a problem for most of the roughly 150km stretch and said he hopes the letter will get some traction towards addressing the problem.

“What was sent out is what it is and what's happening. Cell service on the 502 is terrible,” McQuaker said.

“There's quite a chunk in there where there's absolutely no service. That being said, with accidents and whatever, we definitely need some better service there and we need somehow to get it going and get some movement on it.”

As the Fort Frances council addressed the letter from Emo, they also acknowledged that the stretch has proven fatal on many occasions, with the most recent deadly accident happening in January of 2020.

“It hits very close to home for many people around here,” Fort Frances Mayor June Caul said at Monday night's meeting.

“All of us have travelled that road and been concerned about having something happen and not being able to reach anybody to help us out, and I think that is one letter that we definitely want to agree to sending on with our approval.”

The town council decided unanimously to draft their own letter to send along to the government, as Mayor Caul reasoned an additional letter would add more weight to Emo's request than simply signing on to it.

In other news, council also agreed with a recommendation made by the Administration and Finance Executive committee to change the final tax billing due dates to August 31 and September 30, as well as to continue to bill Water & Sewer on schedule, but amend the by-law to state that Notices of Disconnections would not be enforced during the emergency declaration.

Also at Monday night's meeting, council:

  • approved a recommendation to make changes to the Municipal Accommodation Tax by-law
  • approved a recommendation to allocate Contributions to Capital from Reserve Funds in the amount of $281,276.49 to finance 2019 Capital Fund expenditures
  • approved a recommendation to receive the Ontario Regulation 284/09 disclosure report for the 2020 Operating Budget as presented
  • approved a recommendation that the Town of Fort Frances begin the enrollment process with the LAS Group Purchasing Program
  • approved a recommendation to continue with the current lease agreement re: the Rainy Lake Gymnastics Academy at the Memorial Sports Centre auditorium and work towards a compromise between that group and the 908 Rainy Lake Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron
  • approved a recommendation that the Fort Frances girls Minor Hockey Association be allowed to use 15 hours of ice time during the first four weeks of ice during the Fall of 2020
  • received the 2019 Drinking Water System Annual Report and acknowledged staff of the drinking water system for their effort and hard work during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • approved a bylaw to amend bylaw 16/06, the Water System Management Bylaw
  • approved a bylaw to designate and deem a certain plan of subdivision, or part thereof, not to be a registered plan of subdivision
  • approved a bylaw to authorize the entering into of a lease agreement with Vianet for space on the municipal water tower
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