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This article was published 16/12/2019 (319 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

There’s not much love at city hall for the two residents who did what the entire public works department was unable to: reopen the Omand’s Creek footbridge.

Brad Hignell and Chris Beauvilain spent three hours Saturday morning clearing ice from the footbridge — a key link in the active transportation network which connects Wolseley to River Heights and Assiniboine Park — which the City of Winnipeg had closed for safety concerns after an unusual late fall flood and freeze-up.

While area residents may be grateful for not having to make a long cold walk or bike ride detour, the city was not impressed.

"What the residents did at the Omand’s Creek footbridge, though well-intentioned, did not mitigate the public safety risk that existed at this location, as it went beyond simply clearing ice off the bridge surface," a city spokeswoman said Monday in an email to the Free Press.

A sub-contractor works on making the ice at the edges of the path less sharp at the Omand's Creek bridge which had been closed by the city and subsequently cleared of snow and ice by local Wolseley residents. (Mikaela MacKenzie)

A sub-contractor works on making the ice at the edges of the path less sharp at the Omand's Creek bridge which had been closed by the city and subsequently cleared of snow and ice by local Wolseley residents. (Mikaela MacKenzie)

"Opening and closing bridge structures can only be done by professional engineers; the residents who ultimately cleared and reopened the bridge had no way of knowing whether the structure was sound. Luckily, an inspection by our bridge engineers (Monday) morning confirmed that the bridge had not sustained any structural damage due to the ice nor subsequent unsanctioned clearing."

Despite what Hignell and Beauvilain had accomplished with a bit of sweat and hard work, the spokeswoman said conditions in the area had been simply unsafe for crews to access with their equipment.

"Fluctuating water levels through late October and November caused overland flooding that formed thick, hazardous ice that — for weeks — expanded and contracted on, underneath and around the bridge," she said.

"This posed potential for damage to the bridge structure, which we were unable to inspect until the ice was cleared — a simple task in and of itself, but one the city decided not to undertake due to other, less easily mitigated hazards in the area.

"When the ice formed, expanded, and contracted on the pathways, it created a two-layered system of thick, uneven surface that made the trail incredibly steep and unstable and also left a sharp drop-off leading onto the bridge. The risk of taking machinery down these pathways to adequately clear them and lay enough sand to create traction outweighed opening the area to foot and bike traffic through the winter."

Brad Hignell and another resident of Wolseley shovelled the snow and ice from Omand’s Creek after the city closed it to pedestrians. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

Brad Hignell and another resident of Wolseley shovelled the snow and ice from Omand’s Creek after the city closed it to pedestrians. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

City hall thus erected barricades, and forced those who used the route on foot and bike to take a long, windy detour, until Hignell and his friend (both of whom had studied engineering at university) grabbed a couple of picks, bars, shovels and a bucket of gravel.

Ward Coun. Cindy Gilroy did not respond to questions on the bridge.

Coun. Sherri Rollins, chairwoman of council’s protection, community services and parks committee, said she understood the two men’s frustration but said city hall opted to side with caution when safety is at stake.

"Sometimes things are closed for reasons. Whether it’s high river levels, and this is a reality this year, where there’s a lot of paths and skating (closed) that isn’t about budgetary cutbacks, it’s about safety," Rollins said. "I don’t want Winnipeggers to be confused by that."

Coun. Matt Allard, chairman of the public works committee, echoed that stance. "City staff did their job, and made a judgment call using the available information to ensure public safety," he said in an email statement.

Ironically, the public works department had envisioned such a scenario, and had proposed replacing the bridge in 2010 with one with greater river clearance. It dropped the idea in the face of overwhelming opposition from local residents.

“Sometimes things are closed for reasons. Whether it’s high river levels, and this is a reality this year, where there’s a lot of paths and skating (closed) that isn’t about budgetary cutbacks, it’s about safety. I don’t want Winnipeggers to be confused by that.” – Councillor Sherri Rollins

The civic spokeswoman said while the footbridge is structurally sound and safe to cross, the same can’t be said for the pathway on either side. Crews and heavy equipment were in the area Monday.

"We urge anyone who chooses to use the pathway to please exercise caution and be aware of the steep incline and decline, as well as the uneven terrain," the spokeswoman said.

Anders Swanson, executive director of Winnipeg Trails Association, said the public works department appears to have done a good job keeping other parts of the active transportation network cleared this winter.

"I don’t know why they gave up on the bridge," Swanson said, adding the bike and pedestrian paths continue to be treated in a second-class fashion.

"If there was a sewer line break or a big pot hole in the middle of Portage Avenue, it wouldn’t be acceptable to stretch snow fencing across it and walk away."

 

— with files from Danielle DaSilva

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca