By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
After further exploration, it looks like there may be a palatable solution to remedy the ongoing closure of a section of Talbot Trail along Lake Erie.
At a special public meeting held in Tilbury recently, the municipality laid out a number of options to deal with the road closure brought on by erosion eating away at the shoreline. In 2019, the looming threat saw Chatham-Kent close the section due to safety concerns.
Dubbed the “technically preferred alternative” route, the proposal would see a new stretch of road built that would link the existing Talbot Trail along the lake to Coatsworth Road. The new section of road – less than a kilometre long – would cut through the property owned by Hacienda Farms, connecting the pavement at the Coatsworth and Talbot intersection.
The current section of Talbot Trail running parallel to the new road would be abandoned. The asphalt would be removed and the land would be allowed to return to its natural state.
The preferred alternative choice also eliminates the need for westbound Talbot Trail motorists to detour around the Second concession to Stevenson Road and back down to Talbot Trail.
Property owners attending the public meeting said the new proposal is much better – and far cheaper – than the original decision made by council to build a 34-kilometre stretch of roadway that would have sliced through farmland along the route.
Retired engineer John Mann helped found an advocacy citizen group to protest the idea of moving Talbot Trail inland. He is pleased with the alternative route that’s being recommended.
Mann, who owns a 100-acre property that includes significant woodland, would have seen the pavement slice through his farm if the inland road was built.
The grassroots group that carries the motto “Save Our Farms, Save Our Shoreline, Save Our Forests and Wildlife and Save Talbot Trail” has worked hard lobbying the municipality to not proceed with moving the road inland. Members held meetings and went door to door collecting 650 signatures on a petition to protest the move.
Mann is recommending the community get behind the proposed alternative route.
He lauded the “fresh approach” taken by new infrastructure and engineering general manager Edward Soldo and his team.
“It’s awesome, practical and a breath of fresh air,” Mann said at the meeting, noting the open-minded approach to find a better solution applies to C-K councillors as well.
“They’re of a mind to do something that made sense,” Mann told The Voice, noting there was “a lot of momentum” from the former council to “run from the lake.
“It generated a lot of fear, and fear motivates people to do things that don’t make sense,” Mann said, calling the proposed solution “common sense.”
Wendy Christianson, a neighbour of Mann’s on the affected stretch of Talbot Trail, said she is pleased with the proposed alternative, noting the 34-kilometre road would have cut through her farm.
“I’m very happy with the proposed alternative as it won’t impact natural habitat,” Christianson said, adding woodlands along the lake are critical to native species and to annual bird migration.
Mann said the group is hoping a park will be created along the section of Talbot Trail that will be abandoned.
“The bottom line is that people travelling along Talbot Trail love the lake,” Mann said. “It would be great to pull over there, have a picnic, or get out your binoculars to watch the birds. It’s beautiful and it’s attractive and it’s peaceful.”
Earlier this year, council opted to revisit the inland highway decision following a request from West Kent Coun. Lauren Anderson asking that the municipality seek a cheaper and less invasive solution to the issue.
Formerly a provincial highway, the responsibility of Talbot Trail was downloaded onto Chatham-Kent in the 1990s. In 2010, the municipality had to build a $200,000 bypass in the Coatsworth area after erosion caused a major crack in the highway.
Next steps in the process include further community engagement, with final recommendations to return to council in February 2024. If approved, the municipality will need to purchase some land to build the stretch of road but the necessary acquisition is less than one hectare.