Holding a demonstration to draw attention to the 13 highway maintenance depots that close April 30 for the season near the Placentia lift bridge was symbolic, said Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public Employees (NAPE) president Carol Furlong.
Furlong spoke to the approximately 100 NAPE workers and supporters just alongside the beleaguered lift bridge. She said the location was important because just as the bridge has been allowed to fall into a state of disrepair, so are the roads in the area.
“We are at a point in the year when government begins laying off highway depot employees, but there is still so much work to be done just to maintain the roads,” she said. “In this area alone, there will be eight lay-offs, and the workers that remain must work out of the Whitbourne depot.”
Furlong doesn’t believe that’s the right way to maintain failing roads in this province.
Her views were supported by the people who attended the demonstration. One worker, who didn’t want to be named, said in the summer months, if they are called to do work in St. Bride’s, for instance, he has to drive to Whitbourne to get the vehicle, then double back all the way to the Cape Shore, and then back to Whitbourne and then back home.
“It’s ridiculous,” he said. “We are adding a couple of hours to any work that needs doing down there. I don’t know how this is saving government any money. It takes twice as long to do the work. It don’t make sense.”
Support came from the Town of Placentia and the town of Fox Harbour, both of which had representatives speak to the demonstrators to show their support in keeping the Placentia depot open.
Fox Harbour Mayor John Maher said the roads aren’t fit to drive on is some places, and called for a full time depot to be opened in Placentia.
“How long are we going to let this go on?” he asked.
Placentia’s councilor Noella Collins also took the bullhorn, adding that staff are dedicated to their jobs but can only do so much. The problem, she believes, is management.
“Government is saving money on the backs of the residents of the area. If they need to make cuts, they should make them in their offices, and not on the ground,” said Collins to a round of cheers.
Furlong pointed out that this province has some of the worst roads in Canada, and said government needs to acknowledge this and do something to correct the situation.
She also noted how government spends so much in trying to entice visitors to the province with fabulous advertising campaigns.
“This province is in the best financial situation we’ve seen but still they can’t find the money for maintenance of roads to increase safety for residents and tourists,” she said.
Furlong called on Transportation Minister Tom Hedderson and Placentia-St. Mary’s MHA Felix Collins to come here and ask people what they think of the depot closure.
“This site is symbolic,” she said. “To look at the bridge, you wouldn’t know the repairs that are needed. The damages are hidden. Well, it’s the same for the roads.”
She told supporters to contact their MHA or the Department of Transportation to voice their concerns.
“Tell them to keep the depots open.”