“Yes, I would,” said Mayor Desjardins, during a phone interview September 27, adding he has the support of his city council for the plan. “They’re all in favour of negotiating.”
The United Counties of Prescott-Russell (UCPR) owns and manages the Prescott-Russell Recreational Trail (PR Trail) through a lease agreement with VIA Rail for use of a former railway bed as the route for the 72-kilometre-long trail. UCPR council, in a recorded vote September 23, decided against a two-year extension of the lease agreement, after several mayors on counties council expressed concerns about future maintenance costs for the recreational trail.
This means that at the end of 90 days the PR Trail route becomes VIA Rail’s sole property again, if neither side makes a move to reopen talks about the lease arrangement. Desjardins described UCPR council’s decision as a mistake, saying a two-year extension of the lease would have given the UCPR time to negotiate a future better deal with VIA Rail
“There are consequences for everybody,” he said, regarding the council majority decision. “They chose to slam the door closed.”
Both Desjardins and Champlain Township Mayor Normand Riopel indicated they would like the sections of the trail in their municipalities continue serving local recreation and tourism needs.. Desjardins has asked Stéphane Parisien, UCPR chief administrator, to help arrange a meeting between VIA Rail and the two mayors of Clarence and Champlain Township to begin discussions for separate deals on the PR Trail.
“I want to try and organize a meeting before the 90 days are finished,” Desjardins said, adding that he would like VIA Rail to turn over complete ownership of the Clarence-Rockland section of the trail to city for a nominal sum of one dollar.
“It is one of the sections that is very well-used in the summertime,” Desjardins said, adding that the local section of the trail has great local recreational and tourism value. “Between Bourget and Hammond, there’s a lot of people who use that trail.”
Desjardins agreed that the UCPR report indicated the entire PR Trail could require several millions of dollars worth of maintenance improvements over the next 10 years. But he noted that the Clarence-Rockland section has fewer culverts compared to other sections and might need just $20,000 to $30,000 worth of annual maintenance work.
The mayor also suggested that the City could look at creating a loop trail with its section by developing a link extension through Clarence Creek that would include the ferry landing site on Fox Island. This would help develop the trail’s tourism value by open it up to Québec cyclists.