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Today is Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Mayoral Musings

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401 accidents again underlining the need for real changes on our highways

I'm actually re-writing this column in the wee hours of Tuesday morning just after getting back in from a check on the status of yet another deadly Hwy. 401 accident near our Exit 716 interchange. This one actually took place before the highway had been completely cleared of the results of an earlier tanker truck collision that caused a fuel spill and closed part of the 401 for quite a number of hours through Monday afternoon and evening.

There is a part of me that thinks I shouldn't write this at the moment, as quite frankly I am upset over yet more Hwy. 401 carnage. It seems very likely at this moment that two or more people have lost their lives in this incident. I am also very much concerned over the safety of our tremendously dedicated Prescott Volunteer Fire Department members, who have been on scene much of the day already and are faced with working through the night (with the assistance of our great friends in Augusta and Edwardsburgh-Cardinal) on what Chief Barry Moorhouse told me a few hours ago is one of the worst accidents that he has seen in his many years of service.

These events underscore a lot of frustration for me. As is well known, we had a serious fatal accident last March in Leeds and the Thousand Islands near Mallorytown that resulted in the spill of a dangerous material and the closure of the 401 for some 30 hours. I wrote Minister of Transportation Steven Del Duca very soon afterward, asking for a meeting so we could discuss a number of serious concerns held by myself and many other regional mayors.

That meeting did not take place until September 18. I certainly do not blame any one person for all of this. Blame is not what this is about. I know very well that we will never be able to prevent all Hwy. 401 accidents. I know that our challenges on the 401 will not be resolved overnight, and that the last thing we need to do is initiate kneejerk solutions that don't actually solve anything.

But we lost nearly six months here. Nearly half a year went by while we waited for the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) to take seriously the mayors of the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville and the mayors and wardens of the Eastern Ontario Mayors' and Wardens' Caucuses and organize that meeting. And Minister Del Duca did not even attend that September 18 meeting; we actually didn't welcome him to Eastern Ontario until a follow-up meeting in October.

We're now working on the situation with the recently formed Safe Corridor Working Group that I sit on along with other municipal representatives Mayor Joe Baptista from Leeds and the Thousand Islands and Leeds and Grenville Warden Robin Jones. I do believe that the MTO is diligently addressing our concerns, along with representatives from the OPP, the trucking industry, and the federal government. But six months of inaction. More dead. And here we are just really beginning to deliberate on options to address a very real and very pressing safety situation on our 400-series highways.

I have attempted to be cautiously optimistic here that we are on the right track and will soon see the initiation of some real action. But nights like tonight are very, very trying, with more lives lost, more of our first responders put in harm's way, and more risk posed by the thousands of trucks being re-routed through the narrow streets of Prescott for hours on end.

*** ***

Congratulations again to everyone at Boomers Sports Bar and Restaurant on its big 20th anniversary celebrations held throughout November. The month-long party finished up with one last blowout this past Saturday night, as Third Wave (one of the first bands that played the bar way back in 1997) played before a packed house.

It was heartwarming to see such a big crowd come out to celebrate this milestone along with owner Donna Adams and her son, long-time Boomers' manager Chris Hanes. With all due respect to our other great pubs and restaurants in Prescott, as all offer a lot when it comes to culinary and other delights, Boomers to me is the King St. institution, the bar in Prescott where everyone knows your name.

Great food and drink is one thing, but it's the people who really make any establishment. Boomers has always had that great sense of community, from the staff who can predict what you're going to order to the friends you always find in the booths, at the tables, and around the bar.

Donna and Chris thanked me for my support on Saturday night, but the thanks should really all go to them. Boomers has given a lot back to the Fort Town over the past two decades thanks largely to the outstanding commitment and drive of this mother-and-son team, so all the best for many, many more years of success and happiness.

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