Council votes to extend discussion on ORV linkages to fall

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In an emotionally charged and closely contested vote, Kawartha Lakes council has decided that no decision will be made about either the proposed Lindsay or Bobcaygeon linkages for ORV vehicles until September 2021.

By a 5-4 margin, with Mayor Andy Letham casting the deciding vote, council has decided to give residents more opportunity to share their opinions on the issue of connecting the Victoria Rail Trail south to north with proposed pathways through both Lindsay and Bobcaygeon.

“We are offering a benefit to a select few for the annoyance of the many,” Letham said. “This (Lindsay) linkage should be (advertised)…and we want to hear from affected residents. I own an ATV that I trailer to Fenelon when I want to ride. I am also member of KATVA. I wouldn’t be caught dead riding my ATV through Lindsay. I’d like to hear more opinions and see where people really stand. I am uncomfortable with rushing this issue.”

Deputy-mayor Pat O’Reilly began the conversation by extracting the motion passed at the committee of the whole meeting on June 1 which approved a single pathway through Lindsay.

“Since we settled on a route I have had many emails and phone calls,” O’Reilly said. “The majority do not want ORVs on Lindsay streets. We are a growing municipality and most surrounding municipalities do not allow ORVs on paved streets. We need to listen to people like the medical officer of health Dr. (Natalie) Bocking (who opposed ORVs on paved streets).”

O’Reilly stressed that ORVs were designed for trail use only, and not for busy city streets. The deputy-mayor suggested that the city wait for the return of the Active Master Plan later this summer, and until council hears from more people in Lindsay on this issue a decision on a linkage is pre-mature.

O’Reilly proposed to council that the single route through Lindsay (and possibly Bobcaygeon) be published in a broad swath of media as soon as possible and that taxpayers have the summer to contact the city with their concerns. The information would be collated by staff and a report brought back to council in September.

“This will allow for sober second thought,” O’Reilly argued, “and will give more people a chance to become involved with the debate.”

Councillor Doug Elmslie began the discussion by stating, “I have received many, many, many phone calls and emails on this issue. If the public truly believed that they didn’t have a chance to have their say I am willing to allow everyone a chance to become involved. Clearly deputy-mayor O’Reilly heard from a different group of people and they deserve to be heard.”

ORV task force chair and councillor Pat Dunn said he does not have an issue with O’Reilly’s proposal but he feels waiting until September is too long. Dunn hoped the issue could instead be dealt with at the June 29 special council meeting.

“There is a lot of disagreement on this issue,” Dunn said. “Nothing new is likely to surface. I want the trial period to begin in September. The summer rush will be over and it would be a nice way to ease into the pilot project. If we wait till September the project now won’t begin till May 2022.”

Dunn felt that everyone who truly cared about the issue had already made their opinions clear and that it was time to decide the ORV issue once and for all to avoid “a summer of angst.”

Letham interjected and told council that what the deputy-mayor was proposing could not be achieved in only two weeks, and that Dunn’s proposed counter-timeline was unworkable.

Councillor Emmett Yeo spoke in favour of O’Reilly’s deferral because the bulk of the complaints were coming from O’Reilly’s ward and needed more attention.

“I want to eventually see north-south connectivity,” Yeo said. “This will be an economic driver. This issue is not about Lindsay. It is about connectivity and it has to happen.”

Yeo also shared that he had been the recipient of a number of harassing and ignorant emails and phone calls on this issue. “There are people out there who should be ashamed of themselves. Don’t call me names.”

Councillor Tracy Richardson, who serves on the ORV Task Force, spoke against the deferral.

“We have been having this discussion for the last 10 years. This plan is designed to create and manage connectivity. We have the trails and we need to connect them north-south. We are trying to be a progressive council. The sport is growing and unfortunately there will be more accidents because of that growth.”

Councillor Kathleen Seymour-Fagan, who also sits on the ORV Task Force, was baffled that anyone did not know the ORV issue was being discussed.

“We have spent months on this issue. We hear from the same NIMBYs (Not In My Backyard) every time this issue is discussed. They will never compromise on this issue. I support connectivity. I think the city communications department could have maybe done a better job getting this information out to the general public. These negative attitudes (emails and phone calls) being directed towards council on this issue are unbearable and I don’t want two more months of this.”

Councillor Ron Ashmore weighed in suggesting that people have to want to be aware of what is going on in their communities, “This has been going on for the last eight month. All we get is a barrage of ‘No, No, No.’ Public health should stay out of politics and let elected officials make their decisions. We need to make a decision today and three months won’t change anything.”

Mayor Letham joined in the discussing.

“There is no rush to do this for the fall. The new route was only brought forward two weeks ago. I like the deputy-mayor’s motion. We are elected to represent our constituents. What are we afraid of?”

O’Reilly concluded his appeal telling councillors that once the route was announced “a lot of new people really responded and wanted their voices heard.”

Letham called for a recorded vote on the issue.

Those in favour of more public consultation: O’Reilly, Yeo, Andrew Veale, Elmslie, Letham.

Those in favour of the linkage being approved for September implementation: Seymour-Fagan, Richardson, Dunn, Ashmore

Outcome: Council will decide on final ORV linkages in Lindsay and Bobcaygeon in September after hearing a report prepared by senior staff sharing public opinion gathered throughout the summer. The pilot ORV linkage, if approved, will begin no earlier than May  2022.

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