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Proposed wooden bridge passes hurdle at Courtenay council meeting

COURTENAY RIVER PEOPLE Bridge supporters Norman Reader, Ed Schum and Harry Holland (from left) smile after Courtenay council decided to spend $70,000 on planning and research for the bridge and apply for a $1.9 million grant for its construction. Reader constructed this wooden mockup of the bridge. - Renée Andor
COURTENAY RIVER PEOPLE Bridge supporters Norman Reader, Ed Schum and Harry Holland (from left) smile after Courtenay council decided to spend $70,000 on planning and research for the bridge and apply for a $1.9 million grant for its construction. Reader constructed this wooden mockup of the bridge.
— image credit: Renée Andor

The proposed pedestrian and cyclist bridge over the Courtenay River just took a large step towards becoming reality.
Courtenay council committed $70,000 from the New Works Community Works Fund Reserve Monday towards survey, design, geotechnical, environmental and archaeological work at the proposed location between Sixth Street and Simms Millennium Park.
The City will also apply for a $1.9 million grant from the Gas Tax Innovations Fund for construction of this bridge, along with a $1.75 million grant from the Gas Tax General Strategic Priorities Fund for recoating of the Fifth Street bridge, both of which must be filed by the end of May.
"I was really excited to be able to see this project (the pedestrian and cyclist bridge) move forward," supporter Coun. Ronna-Rae Leonard said after the decision was made. "If it didn't pass today that would have been the end of the project."
The motion was not passed unanimously. After well over an hour of debate, Leonard, Coun. Doug Hillian, Coun. Jon Ambler and Coun. Bill Anglin voted in favour, while Mayor Larry Jangula, Coun. Starr Winchester and Coun. Manno Theos were opposed.
The covered bridge would be about 180 feet in length and would be made of locally sourced timber. Courtenay River People Bridge steering committee chair Harry Holland spoke to council in early March and noted the bridge would be a community building project, with various groups, organizations, businesses and individuals taking part in the work, including the Timber Framers Guild, which helped construct a similar bridge in Golden, B.C. 
Although Jangula said the pedestrian bridge sounded like a great project, he was concerned about spending money on it and wanted to ensure the much-needed work on the Fifth Street bridge was completed before moving ahead with a new bridge.
"We have to separate our needs from our wants. I've been elected for nine years and we really haven't done a very good job at this table of doing that," he said. "If, for example, we get the funding to build this bridge but we don't get the money to build the Fifth Street bridge we're going to look pretty foolish."
Anglin pointed out that it would be up to the Province to decide if the grant applications met the requirements and only applying for one wouldn't necessarily help the other succeed because they are separate grants.
City director of operations Kevin Lagan said the two applications go to separate funding sources, but if the Fifth Street bridge application doesn't pass in General Strategic Priorities Fund it can be transferred to the Innovations Fund, and the City would have to announce its priority between the two at that time.
Winchester and Theos spoke of concerns about possible lack of public support for the proposed bridge.
"Public discussion is huge because guess what, that public, those are our stakeholders," Theos said passionately, as he suggested a survey be sent out with the City's tax notices. "We're talking 25,000 people in this community, they need to be involved in that conversation."
However, Ambler countered, pointing out that the City brings in and spends about $50 million per year in its general operating budget, and the public elected them to make decisions on spending amounts like $70,000.
He also said support for the pedestrian bridge seemed diverse.
"I would put the Cycling Task Force on the left; they're greenies, they're worried about the environment, they want to rides their bikes," said Ambler. "Rotary Clubs though, they're business people. That's the other end of the spectrum… there's diverse support for this."
Four Rotary Clubs — Courtenay, Comox, Strathcona Sunrise, and Cumberland — support the bridge, as well as the Downtown Courtenay Business Improvement Association, and a number of other local groups and organizations.
Hillian noted that the idea of a wooden bridge has been around since the late 1980s, and said it would be a mistake to pass on the chance to move the project forward now.
"We have people who have come forward and rallied to this project and are willing to put their own sweat equity into it, who are willing to raise money regardless of whether the City can come up with grants or not," said Hillian. "It would be looking a gift horse in the mouth if we turned this down at this particular point."
After the motion passed, Winchester made another motion to set the Fifth Street bridge as a priority in the application package. This motion was passed with Hillian and Leonard opposed.
The City will now start the research and design phase of the project to complete it before the grant application deadline.
For more information on the proposed bridge, visit www.cvbridgeproject.com.
writer@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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