A bridge often used by snowmobilers, hikers and cyclists in Highlands East will be closed after it was deemed unsafe by an engineering firm.

At the recommendation of the trails and outdoors committee, Highlands East hired an engineer to assess the wooden bridge in April 2022.

The firm, Greer Galloway, recommended the IB&O bridge be shut immediately due to structural issues. The inspectors said it was beyond saving.

“There are no suggestions to repair the bridge as it would be cost-prohibitive..” said economic development coordinator Joanne Vanier at a Sept. 13 meeting of council.

Jon Cumming, president of the Paudash Trailblazers snowmobile club, which has a trail over the bridge, said “an unsafe bridge is an unsafe bridge. We’re disappointed it’s gotten to this point but we’re hopeful Highlands East council will come up with a solution.”

He said the group has no current plans for a bypass of the bridge since snowmobiling across the creek below it would be unsafe and temporary bridges are costly.

“We’re a volunteer-based organization – we have limited numbers of people to help us do the work,” Cumming said. “Losing any link in our system is definitely a difficulty we have to spend time working around.”

CAO Shannon Hunter said the township is aware of the impact of the closure to snowmobilers and other users.

“But we’ve had an engineer’s report that says we shouldn’t be using it… we have to think about the liability,” she said.

Staff presented two options to council: close the bridge completely or just to vehicle traffic.

Vanier said it would be difficult to stop vehicles, such as dirt bikes or bicycles, even with barricades that would permit pedestrians.

Initially, mayor Dave Burton said he’d favour allowing pedestrians to use the bridge, however, Hunter said she’d caution against that as it would leave the township open to liability if anyone injured themselves on the bridge after it was deemed unsafe.

Councillors unanimously voted to close the bridge.

“I hate to say that, and I know that snowmobilers are the lifeblood of our community in the winter… I do not want to take the chance of the municipality getting into any sort of liability trouble,” Coun. Suzanne Partridge said.

According to a staff report, council can direct staff to seek quotes for a replacement bridge, to be incorporated into the 2023 budget.