Fire protection gap on Hamilton Island

A bridge connecting the mainland of South Glengarry with Akwesasne's Hamilton Island has a sign posted for a maximum weight limit of 10 metric tons on Monday, Oct. 7, 2019. The fire chief says the recent change in weight rating for the bridge means 'many' of their fire vehicles can't go over should a house fire happen on the island. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston)

LANCASTER – A recent change to a critical piece of infrastructure has left residents of Hamilton Island with a gap in protection should they have a house fire or require some other response from the fire department.

The island is on the St. Lawrence River between Summerstown and South Lancaster, south of County Road 2, and has roughly 70 homes on it. It’s connected to the mainland by a bridge.

Through an agreement between South Glengarry and the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, the township provides fire protection for the island based on an annual fee.

But South Glengarry Fire Chief Dave Robertson told township council Monday night, a recent change to the bridge by Akwesasne means many of their fire vehicles can’t go there.

“I was advised today (Monday) by Akwesasne administration that they lowered the load rating of that bridge to 10 metric tons. That causes issues with our ability for many of our fire vehicles to pass over (the bridge),” Robertson stated.

The fire chief says he doesn’t “have all the answers yet” but there would be changes in the short term. “We are going to have to adjust our response to that area,” he said.

The chief was going to double-check the agreement but believed, based on similar agreements, South Glengarry would not be held liable if it couldn’t respond. Those agreements “give us certain reasons” not to respond, such as blocked access – in this case blocked access based on a vehicle bridge weight limit.

A sign on Hamilton Island warns truck drivers there’s a maximum weight of 10 metric tons allowed on the bridge connecting the island to County Road 2 in South Glengarry. The township’s fire chief says the recently established weight limit means ‘many’ of his fire department vehicles can’t cross to respond to an island house fire. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston)

Mayor Frank Prevost says it’s something that has to be addressed as soon as possible because “a number of homes could be jeopardized there.”

Mohawk Council of Akwesasne spokesman Shannon Roundpoint says some “quick fix” repairs will be made next week to ensure the soundness of the bridge for “five or more years.” The long term plan is to rebuild it.

Roundpoint supplied the following statement to Cornwall Newswatch from the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne:

“Safety is of the utmost priority to the Mohawk Council. The reduction in the bridge’s weight limit was necessary to make emergency repairs and was an alternative to completely closing the bridge. The bridge is in dire need of repairs. A contractor’s meeting was held last week to finalize plans and the repairs are expected to be completed next week. This “quick fix” repair will ensure the bridge’s soundness for five or more years. A long term plan to completely rebuild the bridge is also a priority. We encourage Hamilton Island residents, school officials, emergency organizations, and other service providers to plan their operations accordingly by the temporary weight limit in order to ensure the continuation of services. We thank the public for their understanding as we work to ensure a safe bridge for all.”