By DANIEL PEARCE, SIMCOE REFORMER
It’s taken five years of planning, fundraising — and arguing with opponents — but environmentalists are now one step closer to creating a safe passage for wildlife underneath the Long Point Causeway.
Drawings have been completed showing three spots where concrete underground culverts will be built to allow turtles, frogs, and snakes to migrate back and forth between the marsh and the inner bay.
The plan has undergone an environmental study, which was presented to Norfolk council Tuesday night. A 30-day review period will now take place after which construction can begin.
When they’re finished, the culverts will help alleviate an environmental disaster along the causeway, a narrow two-lane strip that takes motorists from the mainland to Long Point.
The stretch is considered to have the fifth worst roadkill rate in the world for turtles, many of them from species at risk, said Stephen Burnett of S. Burnett & Associates Limited, the firm that did the environmental study.
To entice animals to use the culverts instead of the road, soil and plant matter will be put into the underground passages while air and sunlight will come in from grates at road level, Burnett said.
The three crossings will also allow for an increased exchange of water between the marsh on the west and the bay on the east.
“Experts that were part of our team feel there are no issues associated with draining the bay. It’s already connected in several places,” noted Burnett.
Improving the flow between the two bodies of water will actually help the health of both the bay and the marsh, said Rick Levick of the Long Point Causeway Improvement Project, the group behind the culverts.
But not everybody is happy with the plan.
Stu Ross of the Friends of the Causeway Association warned council that the true impact on the marsh remains unknown.
“Poking holes in the road will cause more rapid draining” than in the past while the best way to prevent roadkill remains using fencing, not culverts, Ross said.
The county must approve the work because it owns the road, but Levick noted the cost has been covered from the $750,000 his group has raised, including grants from government bodies.
The culverts need to be added, he said. If the causeway was being built today, he noted, “it wouldn’t be allowed to pass without proper eco-passages” for wildlife.
Levick’s group has been working on plans to upgrade the causeway for five years. Volunteers erected low-level fencing to prevent animals from going on the road and flashing signs warning motorists to watch for turtles.
Those moves alone dropped mortality rates on the causeway by half and 60% for some species at risk, he said.
Plans also call for the addition of bike paths and lookout spots along the causeway.