Centre Wellington councillors voted unanimously this week to reconsider the motion to dismantle the old steel bridge on Middlebrook Place. Instead, they directed staff to find the best solution to keep a bridge at the site.
To that end, the township will be working with the Save Middlebrook Bridge Community Action Group and neighbouring Woolwich, which shares the closed structure that sits on a boundary road.
Coun. Lisa MacDonald spearheaded the move at Monday night’s meeting.
“That’s what I heard loud and clear from my community: They wanted to keep this bridge,” she said, noting she received no messages in support of taking down the bridge.
There is no timeline for when staff need to have a report brought back to council.
“If we’re looking at fundraising, if the Middlebrook group is looking at fundraising, I’ve really made that clear: there is no rush. We’re not going anywhere, the bridge isn’t going anywhere. I look forward to that information coming back, for sure.”
Stephanie Lines-Toohill and Mark Walker are two volunteers with the Save the Middlebrook bridge group.
“I was relieved,” said Lines-Toohill. “It has been a very long wait with our large group holding on in anticipation for this particular meeting. It means to us now we have a key that can open the doors to next steps. Overall, I’m feeling relieved. It was a pivotal meeting. Had they voted no, there would be nowhere else for us to turn. Now I feel that they’ve handed us the key that will help us open the doors.”
“It’s quite encouraging to have a positive result from the Centre Wellington review of the issue. So that’s adding, certainly, more emphasis and weight to our cause,” said Walker.
Lines-Toohill says she was told that Centre Wellington staff will contact the Save the Middlebrook bridge group within the next two months to discuss next steps.
In the meantime, she says the group may plan a gathering in the fall to bring together all the bridge’s supporters to celebrate council’s passing of the motion and how far the group has come, and to keep the bridge in the public eye.
As well, the group has been invited to speak to Woolwich council in September.
The bridge is shared between the two municipalities, but the infrastructure itself is owned by Woolwich Township, says MacDonald.
Walker also mentioned he believes prioritizing structures such as the Middlebrook bridge can augment municipalities’ active transportation plans.
Lines-Toohill suggests the pandemic played a part in raising the profile of the bridge.
“This original decision [to dismantle the bridge] happened before anyone knew that COVID was going to happen. And during the times of isolation, people reconnected with their trailways and nature and active transportation,” said Lines-Toohill. “Then I think the bridge had more important value because people rediscovered it and rediscovered the joy of being connected through our rural corridors. Then the barricades were placed, so they arrived at a crucial point where access was vital. And that has raised the profile of this particular bridge.
“I think that the awareness of connector routes, being vital for access to nature, especially as our communities grow, and the increase in active transportation for alternative traveling and recreation, for well being, there’s a new awareness to the importance of all of those aspects that wasn’t there before COVID.”