Ottawa Ontario - A meeting between city officials and Transport Canada (TC) over concerns about the Prince of Wales Bridge sped up plans to block off entry points on the historic Ottawa River crossing, according to emails and documents recently released to the Sun.
A contractor installed chain-link fences at the bridge access points last September after TC summoned city staff to the federal headquarters at the end of 2015 to discuss security on the out-of-service rail bridge.
According to internal city emails released through access to information, TC contacted the city on 23 Nov 2015 with concerns about security on the bridge after being tipped off by reports in the media.
While the emails don't indicate what issue triggered TC's interest, Ottawa police in August that year reported robberies on and around the bridge.
City officials met with the agency on 2 Dec 2015 to explain that it increased patrols and had plans to permanently barricade the bridge.
Two days before Christmas that year, a TC engineer reminded the city of the municipality's obligations under the federal Railway Safety Act to protect the security of the public and the property.
The city emails and documents were produced between 1 Jan 2016 and 23 Sep 2016, the date the Sun made the request.
Email exchanges between staff, politicians, and consultants illustrate the drudgery to get the barricades constructed.
The city started ramping up plans to build security gates at the bridge access points and working with consultants on a design, but after Councillors Jeff Leiper and Catherine McKenney learned about the plan in April 2016, the design was put on hold.
The project started out as strong security gates but it eventually ended up being fencing.
After confirming the plan with the city's legal department, the asset management department restarted the barricade project in June 2016.
There was skepticism internally about the project, even though the city needed to satisfy TC.
In June 2016, one infrastructure staffer predicted in an email that there would be a "media circus," the fences would be vandalized, and the plan seemed to conflict with the Canada 150 celebrations in 2017.
By the middle of August 2016, the secret was out, the city was working to put barricades on the bridge.
The Sun's story even caught some higher-ups at OC Transpo off guard, judging by an internal email thread produced after the article was published.
Leiper already had sounded the alarm bells internally in April 2016 about the barricades when staff brought him into the loop.
When the Sun story was published, Leiper followed up with a Sunday afternoon email to city manager Steve Kanellakos complaining about the plan and expressing his opposition.
Responded Kanellakos, "Quite frankly, this was not on my radar until it was reported in the media," and he had transit head John Manconi and then-planning boss John Moser get him more information.
Moser quickly halted the design work.
By then, the city's intention to block pedestrian access to the bridge was a hot topic, especially for those who for years have enjoyed walking the deck planks or watching the sunset from a perch over the Ottawa River.
In fact, when a Transpo special constable on bike patrol responded to the bridge for trespassers on 17 Aug 2016 he found about 40 people on the deck and many were jumping off the bridge into the water.
Some of them told the special constable, who was there to enforce the trespass rules, they had been doing it for years without any consequences.
The city wanted to install robust gates at four separate bridge locations and the cost was approaching $450,000, prompting staff to review the requirements.
In the end, the city only spent about $46,000 on standard chain-link fences at the access points.
On 20 Sep 2016 during the work installing the fences, a communications staffer forwarded to his boss a tweet showing an already vandalized fence.
During the work, the city was also arranging private security to protect the job site and watch for trespassers.
One hiccup was having security watch the Gatineau side of the bridge because although the full bridge is owned by the City of Ottawa, it cross into Gatineau and there's different licensing for private security on the other side of the river.
The city had to call up a second security company with Quebec credentials.
In its analysis of barricade options, the city predicted there would be an annual $10,000 cost to repair the chain-link fences.
On Tuesday, the city estimated there has been 35-40 inspections or repairs on the new fences since they were installed last September.
About $15,000 has been spent on repairs.