By Geoff Nixon

Just outside of Verona Ontario, is a small bridge connecting two lakes west of Frontenac Provincial Park. The Mitchell creek bridge, connecting birch and desert lakes, was built in 1930, and for 76 years the bridge has remained in its original form, allowing only small, unpowered watercraft to pass beneath it.

To the dismay of many, transport Canada has recently drawn up plans – yet to be approved formally – to replace the original bridge with a much bigger one that could endanger the well-being of several species of concern in and around the bridge, including a vulnerable population of stinkpot turtles. Transport Canada says that the bridge must be rebuilt to make it comply with the navigable waters protection act, designed to protect commercial transport routes.

“Originally, the bridge was going to be a low bridge, but transport Canada intervened and said it has to be a high bridge,” says Elaine Farragher of the Kingston Field Naturalists. “a low bridge prevents larger motorboats from getting into the wetlands during nesting season … (motorboats) will have all-year access to birch lake if the bridge is raised.”

The township of south Frontenac doesn’t want a bigger bridge because it will be more expensive to construct, and the local mp, Scott Reid, who represents the riding of Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington, has also expressed misgivings.

“Essentially, transport Canada regulations allow them to really broadly interpret the act – (even in regard to) a puddle to some extent, regardless of the type of the type of traffic that occurs there,” says Reid, who has seen loons nesting in the creek.

But not only people and loons enjoy the quiet corridor surrounding the creek: turtles will be most affected by the changes.

“[stinkpot turtles] are very sensitive to disturbance,” says Mary Alice Snetsinger, a conservation biologist who completed a species inventory of the creek. “once they are frightened off of a log, they tend to stay in the water a lot longer than other species.”

Construction is slated to begin next summer, although it may hit a snag as construction activities are not allowed between July 1 and September 1 due to the presence of sensitive species nesting in the area.

“Even if the new bridge is (formally) approved, I still think it’s worth fighting,” says Farragher. “this is the window of hope – maybe (the decision) could be turned around.”