Many attending the meeting echoed the theme of a Stompin’ Tom Connors song.
“We’re spending money we don’t got,” was the clear message during the meeting, which consisted almost entirely of residents opposed to the “Plan B” re-routing project.
The project would see the TCH routed around the north of the CBC tower in Churchill and down to the West River.
Questions were raised about the more than $16 million project in light of news about the growing provincial deficit.
But that wasn’t the only point of contention brought up during the meeting. Residents also expressed concern over a lack of public consultation and environmental damage to the area from the project, which is scheduled to begin in September.
New Haven resident Bill Murley, who lives across the road from Gass’s Country Store, was offered financial compensation because the route would run through his property.
But he said that the money offered would not be enough to move his house up the road.
“When you have people come and sit at your table and tell you ‘we are taking your land,’ how would you feel?” Murley asked the group while describing the meeting he had with provincial officials.
“I used words I am not going to use here tonight. I chased them out of my house and told them not to come back.
“Now they are phoning me.”
John Jamieson, chair of the Bonshaw Community Council, was not at the meeting and was unavailable for comment afterwards.
The province announced the Plan B route in December, with officials saying it was the result of public input following opposition to the previous proposed route, which would have seen the TCH running through Strathgartney Provincial Park.
Provincial officials have said the new route is needed for safety measures, as it straightens a stretch of the highway that has seen numerous accidents and removes a number of driveway accesses.
However, the original plan also received a large amount of public criticism, with more than 2,700 signing a petition protesting it.
Another petition was passed around Thursday night protesting the new route.
Some critics at the meeting even suggested the new route was the government’s actual preference and that re-routing through Strathgartney was just a ploy.
“That was just to throw everybody off,” said one resident.
“Exactly,” agreed another. “That was never the plan.”
Reportedly about $4 million has been set aside to purchase properties, which would see approximately 34 residents affected by the project.
However, residents at the meeting offered their own solutions to improving the highway’s safety. Many of those focused on improving the existing highway rather than creating another stretch of road, which many suggested was a thinly-veiled quick fix for creating jobs.
“All they would have to do is take and upgrade some of these places where you think there are big turns,” said Murley. “But if they keep screwing around, half of their money is going to be gone before they even start it.”
Sheldon MacNevin, a long haul driver from the area, said the highway has supported many loads over the years with no problem.
“If you want, put a sign on the west side of Bonshaw saying ‘high accident rate for the next 12 kilometres,’ and put one in New Haven,” said MacNevin. “And if trucks are not going to slow down for that, that is their problem. It is not the problem of the highway, it is the driver.”
Malpeque MP Wayne Easter was at the meeting and supported one resident’s idea to have an independent engineer provide insight on the stretch of highway, rather than the provincial department of transportation and infrastructure.
“One of the problems on Prince Edward Island, and I don’t mind saying it, is that there is always somebody who’s got an axe to grind and always somebody with something to gain,” said Easter, noting that he was a federal politician and not provincial. “We’re a small community and everybody knows everybody and sometimes it is difficult to get that independent thought to do the right thing based on no individual benefits.”
Organizers of the public meeting are also holding a walking tour through the new route this Sunday (March 25) and Monday (March 26).
A meeting is also being held by the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal next Wednesday (March 28) 7-9 p.m. at the Kingston Legion to meet with residents of the area.