Geneviève Duval launched a petition through Change.org seeking support for a plea to the United Counties of Prescott-Russell council (UCPR) to change its decision about ending the lease arrangement with VIA Rail for use of the former railway route that serves as the Prescott-Russell Recreational Trail.
“With this petition we have the chance to show that we, as citizens of Prescott-Russell, want to keep our trail,” states Duval’s petition.
Duval launched the online petition soon after UCPR council’s September 23 session when it decided against renewing the lease agreement with VIA Rail. The signature goal for the petition is 5000 and as of Thanksgiving Monday, there were almost 4900 names on the petition.
Whether the petition will convince UCPR council to review its September 23 decision is unknown at present. But Mayor Pierre Leroux, current UCPR warden, said during an October 9 phone interview that “there is a lot of misinformation” about the Prescott-Russell Trail issue.
“We’re not closing the trail,” Leroux said. “We are just ending the lease arrangement.”
The lease arrangement that the UCPR has had for many years with VIA Rail made the UCPR responsible for maintaining the 72-kilometre-long hiking and biking trail, in exchange for some financial support from the rail company. VIA Rail had proposed a two-year extension of the current lease with an offer of $40,000 each year towards maintenance costs.
UCPR council’s decision not to continue with the lease arrangement followed a review from its public works department on the cost for existing maintenance and future upgrades to the trail to deal with public safety concerns. The potential cost would be $6 million spread over a 10-year period.
“I’m always open if VIA Rail comes back with a counter-offer,” said Leroux, indicating that such a counteroffer would require VIA Rail increase its offer of financial support.
Leroux noted that the Prescott-Russell Trail existed before the UCPR became responsible for its maintenance through the leasing deal with VIA Rail. “I’ve talked to a few people,” he said, “and they say they’ve walked the trail long before the counties got involved.”
If there is no counter-offer from VIA Rail for the UCPR to consider then the current lease arrangement lapses 90 days after the refusal-to-renew notice was sent to the railway company. But, Leroux noted, that does not mean that people would no longer be able to use the trail route.
Leroux also noted that user groups like the Eastern Ontario Snowmobile Club could contact VIA Rail themselves and arrange for their own lease arrangements for the trail.