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International bridge needs government buy in.

There is value in the international bridge that links Fort Frances to their American neighbouring sister community International Falls and the owners of Boise Cascades are prepared to wait until the proper investor comes along.

Chicago based Madison Dearborn Partners had their 860-foot railroad portion of the bridge sold to Watco Company Inc. However, due to timelines the acquisition could not go through and now, the more than 900-foot bridge is back on the selling block. Cascades spokesman Bob Anderson says although they have had interest from both sides of the border no contracts have been signed.

The privately owned toll bridge has been owned by Abitibi Consolidated and Boise Cascades as early as 1908. When Madison Dearborn took over Cascades' assets in 2004, they viewed the bridge as a non-essential item since their primary focus is on paper production, Anderson says.

Upgrades and maintenance was soley the responsibility of the two companies and the toll fees allocated to the proprietors.

Canadian federal law dictates that who ever controls the international toll bridge must control and maintain a custom's facility. If tolls are non existent, then the government builds their own customs' office.

"That is one of the deterrents here," Onichuk says.

If a light bulb burns out at the facility then the owners are called to change it.

Communities linked to the bridge have had first dibs on the purchase. They have been keen to include their prospective governments in the deal, however, progress has been slow. International Falls mayor Shawn Mason and Fort Frances mayor Dan Onichuk say it is in the best interest of their regions to have the bridge in public hands, rather than private hands.

"We want the province and the state to take responsibility for the road systems," Onichuk says.

"Why should it be any different because it is a bridge into another country? I don't get it."

Improvements to the bridge can only mean an increase in the $6 to $25 (US) toll fees if it ends up in private hands, Onichuk says. Travelers will be paying for the upgrades.

A September meeting with elected leaders reaffirmed the desire for federal and provincial governments to take on the asset and to formalize a purchase offer. Further meetings will cement time lines on when action, if any, will be taken.

The previous Ministry of Transportation had not indicated any interest in purchasing the bridge, says Onichuk, but current Minister Donna Cansfield would like to work in conjunction with the federal agencies to determine if they can acquire the asset through Bill C5.

In the United States senior congressman James L. Oberstar continues to lobby in favour of the country assuming part ownership of the bridge.

"This is in the best interest of tourism and trade and we continue to have our eye on the ball," International Falls mayor Shawn Mason says.

More than 900,000 vehicles and over one million people utilize the bridge annually. The railroad portion of the bridge is used daily bringing materials to either communities.

BY KELLY LOUISEIZE

Northern Ontario Business
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Title Annotation:Abitibi Consolidated; Boise Cascades
Author:Louiseize, Kelly
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Oct 1, 2006
Words:511
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