If Fort Frances mayor June Caul and Alberton reeve Mike Ford are seen doing a happy dance this week, it's not hard to understand why.
Kenora-Rainy River MPP Greg Rickford was at the Fort Frances Tourism Information Centre in Fort Frances on Friday to announce nearly $2-million in funding for some badly needed construction work in the district, with Fort Frances and Alberton being the direct beneficiaries.
The money comes from the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program, launched earlier this spring by Ontario Minister of Infrastructure Monte McNaughton.
“This infrastructure investment program is targeted to our smallest towns and cities across across the province but more importantly focused on Northern Ontario,” Rickford announced.
“It is a joint shared cost project, but I'm pleased to report that Fort Frances has qualified for $1.425 million from the provincial government and Alberton $440,400.”
The money is part of the $500-million Rural and Northern stream of the program, and will be used for reconstruction work on Colonization Road West in Fort Frances, and the replacement of Kehl bridge in Alberton.
Ford said there's plenty of excitement to go around following the announcement.
“I'm feeling really good,” he shared.
“And I'm sure my municipal clerk, she's done a phenomenal job with these funding grants, she'll be quite happy. She's really invested herself into it.”
According to Ford, the Kehl bridge had been identified as in need of repairs a number of years ago, but the urgency of the situation was increased following the CN derailment in Alberton in 2014.
“The bridge is actually vital for the municipality, because if there's an incident at the crossing at the highway, as there was years ago with the CN derailment, that's an alternate access to the western part of the district,” Ford explained.
“Due to that derailment, a lot of heavy loads went over that bridge and a lot of damage was done to the bridge, because the bridge was never designed for that.”
Ford also noted that the township has applied for funding for the project three times in the past.
“We've submitted funding for this bridge repair multiple years, and this is the furthest we've ever gotten on it,” he said.
“What this means for Alberton is we're finally going to get a bridge repaired that's been long overdue.”
Mayor Caul understands the frustration of being denied funding for important projects all too well.
“We've had lots of complaints [about Colonization Road West] for many years,” Caul said.
“But we have not been able to secure any funding through the government or anywhere else.”
Indeed, Town of Fort Frances Operations and Facilities manager Travis Rob said the town has applied for funding for repair work to be done on Colonization Road West six times in the past few years. Mayor Caul echoed his frustration.
"We've talked to the Ministers of the previous government many times, every time we went to a meeting in Toronto, we would get a meeting with them and we would never get any promises and obviously never get anywhere as well.
Caul noted that grants and government funding are critical for the town to be able to complete costly roadwork.
“The only way we would ever get that funding is if we raise taxes even more,” she explained.
“We've got an aging population here, the mill still isn't running and we can't afford to do those kinds of projects because basically it's a million dollars per block. That's about what it cost to replace the water, sewer and then the road infrastructure.”
Ford and Caul both thanked their staff and Rickford for the work they've put in bringing these projects closer to being realized.
Rickford, for his part, acknowledged the gratitude from the officials but said that in order to do his job efficiently, he relies on strong municipal leadership and vision.
“The two people that are standing with me to make these announcements today, it's really about them,” Rickford said.
“It's really about their communities and the role, and my responsibility as the Member of Provincial Parliament is to make sure that their strong voices are heard in Toronto.”
“You see the smiles on folks faces, you know that this is the kind of infrastructure that the community needed and I'm just playing my part.”