The United Counties of Prescott-Russell council (UCPR) voted by a majority against a two-year extension to the current lease maintenance agreement with VIA Rail for the former railway bed that serves as the Prescott-Russell Recreation Trail. There is a 90-day period now before the expiry of the lease when the two sides can resume discussion on the lease but VIA Rail indicated in an email to EAP that it has no intention of doing so.
“VIA Rail has received a notice from the United Counties of Prescott-Russell,” stated Philippe Cannon, VIA Rail public affairs director, “in which they indicate their wish to end their lease agreement for the M&O railway corridor, i.e. the Prescott-Russell Recreational Trail. VIA Rail is not contemplating on submitting a counterproposal at this time.”
Mayor Guy Desjardins of Clarence-Rockland and Mayor Normand Riopel of Champlain Township have both expressed interest in negotiating separate agreements with VIA Rail for the sections of the trail that go through their communities. UCPR Warden Pierre Leroux has also suggested that recreational groups like the Eastern Ontario Snowmobile Club could contact VIA Rail about user agreements for the trail route that would benefit their members.
EAP asked via email if VIA Rail would be willing to consider other user agreements for the trail. The independent Crown corporation is waiting to see the final result of its current arrangement with the UCPR.
“In addition, it would be premature for VIA Rail to comment on hypothetical scenarios with other parties,” stated Cannon, “until the UCPR resolves all their existing contractual obligations under the agreement.”
UCPR council’s decision against renewing the PR Trail lease with VIA Rail followed review of a public works report on the future costs for maintaining and improving the 72-kilometre-long recreational trail route. The UCPR would have to budget about $6 million over 10 years for existing maintenance and any future improvements to meet user safety needs.
UCPR council has received letters from Tourisme Prescott-Russell Tourism and Ontario By Bike/Transportation Options Association of Ontario urging reconsideration of its decision. Charles Lamarche, owner/operator of Place 19-67, a motel/restaurant in Plantagenet, explaining that up to 20 per cent of his winter business consists of snowmobilers who use the PR Trail.
The Prescott-Russell Recreational Trail Association has lodged a protest against UCPR council’s decision. The PR Trail is also the subject of an independent online petition.