Two months after the UVic tragedy, premier directs ‘action group’ to upgrade Bamfield road

Anacla, BC

Significant improvements are coming to the logging road that Anacla and Bamfield residents rely on.

This was the message given when Premier John Horgan travelled the 78-kilometre passage for a meeting in the Huu-ay-aht village of Anacla today. While there Horgan directed staff with B.C.’s Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure to formulate an “action group” to plan upgrades for the road, according to a press release from the Huu-ay-aht First Nations. Bamfield Main serves as an essential road linking Anacla and Bamfield to Port Alberni and other Vancouver Island communities. Part of the road is also used by residents of the Ditidaht First Nation’s community by Nitinaht Lake.

Huu-ay-aht Chief Councillor Robert Dennis Sr. said his nation is optimistic the dirt and gravel road will be chip sealed, which is a process of solidifying through the use of asphalt and fine aggregate.

“Together we have the tools we need to make significant upgrades to the road. We have met in a respectful way, and it is clear we are all committed to take the necessary steps to reach our nation’s top goal of chip sealing the Bamfield road,” said Dennis in the release. “By visiting our community, the premier has a better understanding of how important it is to ensure this vital link is safe for all who travel the road.”

For decades the Huu-ay-aht have been lobbying for the road to be upgraded, and in November 2018 representatives from the First Nation and the Alberni Clayoquot Regional District met with Minster of Transportation Claire Trevena and Scott Fraser, MLA for Mid Island-Pacific Rim and minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation. Chip sealing the road was discussed, but with an estimated cost of $50-75 million, no commitments were made - although an engineering study had begun by the time the latest tragedy occurred on Bamfield Main Sept. 13.

Biology students Emma Machado and John Geerdes, both 18, died when their bus fell down an embankment partway down the logging road. They were on a two-day trip to the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre with a group of other University of Victoria Students, a trip the university has undertaken for the last 18 years.

Since Bamfield Main opened in the 1970s the Huu-ay-aht have also lost eight members on the rugged passage, including Tayii Ḥaw̓ił Art Peters. Peters’ grandson Tayii Ḥaw̓ił ƛiišin, Derek Peters, was present at the recent meeting in Anacla, where he said the premier honoured the nation’s elders and the sacred principles of ʔiisaak (Utmost Respect), ʔuuʔałuk (Taking Care of….), and Hišuk ma c̕awak (Everything is One). The Huu-ay-aht showed their appreciation to the premier by giving him the traditional name Yačuk ma tašii (Yatsuk ma tashii), which means “he who walks the path.”

MLA Scott Fraser also attended the meeting, as did ACRD director Bob Beckett, Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions, Western Forest Products and Mosaic. The road is owned by forestry companies that use the area, a complication that provincial officials have said has delayed improvements.  

Back in 2008 a report from Roger Harris, B.C.’s forest safety ombudsman, issued a warning about the public regularly using a road that was originally intended for industrial use. In this report the ombudsman recommended a new public highway designation for resource roads like Bamfield Main.

“As with many communities’ relationships with their logging roads, the Bamfield logging road is far more important, valuable and useful now to that community than when it was first constructed,” wrote Harris.

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