The great gate debate

Proposal to let public use gated road anything but open-and-shut

By Kristen Shane


Kincardine council is waiting to get more information before it decides whether to open a gated shoreline road to all passenger vehicles during bouts of bad winter weather.


The road is a stretch of Upper Lorne Beach Road at the juncture with Victoria Street that links Lorne Beach with Inverhuron. Ever since it was established, with the laying of a lakeshore water pipeline in the early 2000s, it has been controversial. Many residents living along the narrow road were against opening it as a public street because they feared traffic and safety problems.


But the route, sheltered from most wicked winter weather by trees and bush, is considered a safer alternative than the more exposed B-Line (Bruce County Road 23) and Highway 21.


So in 2007, with the construction of the nearby Mystic Cove subdivision, council talked with police, county officials and local residents and decided on a compromise: the road would be closed, by gate, to all traffic. It would only open to buses heading to the Bruce nuclear power plant when Highway 21 and the B-Line were both closed.


That solution isn’t working, says Ted Little, a 28-year Lorne Beach resident and Bruce Power worker.

Case in point, he says, was Dec. 10, when a winter storm blew into the Kincardine area causing whiteouts and the closure of Highway 21.


He recalls driving home from work:


“The road was horrible. Everybody was crawling along the B-Line trying not to hit the car in front,” Little told council at its regular meeting last week. The next day on his way back to work, he said, he saw 12 cars in ditches lining the B-Line.


“I believe it’s time to loosen up (the current) policy so that people travelling from the north in bad weather aren’t risking their lives, like I have been,” he said.


Little suggested creating a committee to review the issue and decide on a better solution. He proposed opening the lower beach road to all traffic when Highway 21 is closed because of bad weather.


“That has simple criteria. You can understand that if the radio announced Highway 21 is closed, you’ll know that the shore road would be open,” he told council and about 20 concerned citizens seated in the public viewing section of council chambers.


Councillor Gordon Campbell had proposed a similar motion, on council’s agenda for discussion that night.


Darlene Stevens, a Kincardine-area resident who spoke before council, suggested the route be open to all traffic annually from Dec. 1 to March 31.


“Loss of life, loss of property and what is best for the majority of the residents in the municipality must be your highest priorities,” she told council, before handing the clerk a folder she said contained 61 letters in support of opening the gate.


Darlene Stevens asks council last week to open the Upper Lorne Beach Road gate in the winter. Seated behind her, Ted Little has a similar proposal. (Kristen Shane photo)


While some residents say it’s unsafe to drive the B-Line in bad weather, many living along Upper Lorne Beach Road say it’s also unsafe for it to be used as an alternative.


“If (Highway) 21’s closed, the B-Line is not good. Just going out in that kind of weather is putting your life on the line. And it transfers the traffic problem from the B-Line down to this road,” said Bob Taylor, a year-round Lorne Beach resident, after attending the meeting.


The gated part of the road has several blind corners, a narrow bridge and no sidewalks or shoulders in the winter, he said. It’s used by pedestrians year-round, he said. Although it carries a 40-kilometre speed limit, he said he’s convinced drivers would go faster if the road were opened to the public.


Taylor was out knocking on his neighbours’ doors Thursday morning and said he heard mixed reactions about the issue. But a lot of doors went unanswered, he said.


“Right now, it’s a rotten time for any decision to be made,” said Sylvia Stepnow, who lives down the street from Taylor. Many residents who might have opinions on the issue have gone south for the winter, she said.


Talking to members of all affected groups is something deputy mayor Laura Haight urged council to do before deciding on the proposed gate opening.


She said Lorne Beach residents, the county and the local police detachment had the opportunity to comment on the 2007 decision to install the emergency access gate.


“And now, to change that without notifying those same people I think would be a breach of our own processes,” she said.


For its part, Bruce Power spokesperson John Peevers said the company is content with the status quo. “Our employees are free to voice their opinions…but as far as Bruce Power, we’re happy with the current arrangement and we aren’t asking for a change to it,” Peevers said last week.


Most council members indicated they would be willing to at least take a second look at the current policy to give the public greater access to the road on stormy days. But concensus split when it came to when a decision might be made.


In a recorded vote, Haight, Mayor Larry Kraemer, councillors Marsha Leggett, Mike Leggett, and Ken Craig were in the majority in a 5-4 vote to hold off deciding on the proposal until Feb. 3, after a public works committee meeting Jan. 25 that is scheduled to discuss the issue. By that time, council expects municipal staff to have talked to more people and groups affected.


Campbell said he didn’t want to wait more than a week to vote on the issue.


“I don’t believe in putting it off, in case we have another storm,” he said, emphasizing he only wanted to try opening the road when Highway 21 is closed on a trial basis.


“I wouldn’t want to see it drag on, and someone get hurt or killed,” councillor Guy Anderson said, echoing Campbell.


“If there does happen to be an occurrence, the other side of the coin is: would that occurrence happen if that person at Bruce Power was riding the bus?” said councillor Marsha Leggett.


The company offers bus service for employees at pick-up and drop-off points throughout Kincardine and Port Elgin, for a fee.


But Stevens said after the meeting that Leggett’s solution wouldn’t work for her husband and other Bruce Power workers because they don’t live along company bus routes.


For his part, councillor Randy Roppel urged council to lobby the county and the province to make the roads they control, the B-Line and Highway 21, safer.


“It all comes back to money,” said Kraemer.


Upgrades to the B-Line have been put on the backburner because county staff have estimated they could cost between $4 million and $6 million, he said.


“In some ways, it comes to money here too. If Victoria Street is going to be asked to accommodate these vehicles, then we need to put some money into Victoria Street,” said Kraemer, to widen the road and improve curves, for instance.


One thing’s for sure: a simple gate opening is anything but an open-and-shut issue.