Bamfield road washout prompts Huu-ay-aht leader to push premier for improvements

Denise Titian, February 6, 2020

Several families were unable to return to their homes on the southern side of Barcley Sound last weekend due to flooding. (Ken King photo)

Anacla, BC — 

Torrential rain once again forced the closure of the logging roads leading from Port Alberni to Nitinaht and Bamfield over the weekend of Jan. 31 to Feb. 2.

“We were stranded in Port Alberni since Friday,” said Huu-ay-aht Chief Councillor Robert Dennis in a phone interview.

By Monday, Feb. 3 a detour around several slides and washed out bridges opened the route, but it made for a longer journey.

“It took us three hours to get home,” Dennis said.

The recent storm caused at least seven Huu-ay-aht families to be stranded in Port Alberni for the weekend along with several people who were unable to leave the Bamfield area. More families from Nitinaht Lake were also stranded.

In addition to road damage, the storm caused power failures, but BC Hydro crews could not repair the lines until the roads were made passable after the weekend.

Chief Dennis noted that with the number of damaging rain events is increasing something needs to be done to improve the road. For example, he suggested that if the bridge near Bamfield was set higher, it would not have washed out. Better roadside drainage would help, added.

According to Chief Dennis, a portion of the road belongs to the Provincial Government and other portions are permitted to Western Forest Products and other groups.

“About 35km of the road is Crown corridor owned by the province as a result of the Maa-nulth Treaty,” said Dennis.

As such, the road, he said, should be improved to meet provincial standards.

“We can’t avoid [rain storms] but we can be better prepared,” he said.

Ideally, Dennis and the residents of Anacla and neighboring Bamfield would prefer to see the installation of a chip seal road, which is a less costly alternative to paving. Typically used for rural roads with low traffic volume, chip seal roads provide a smoother and safer road surface for drivers.

Chief Dennis has met with B.C. Premier John Horgan, who visited the area following a fatal bus crash last November. Two University students were killed on the Bamfield road when their bus slid down a steep embankment on a narrow section of road.

The Premier agreed that improvements need to be made.

An Action Committee made up of representatives from Huu-ay-aht, Bamfield, Port Alberni, the ACRD, provincial ministries, Western Forest Products and Mosaic was formed. They put together a plan to improve the road that would cost about $30 million.

Chief Dennis said the next step is to have the plan presented to the premier for review and, hopefully, approval.

According to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, Premier Horgan requested that a working group be formed to do a technical review of the Huu-ay-aht’s road upgrade proposal and take a look at potential options for safety improvements.

“The working group, which last met in December, includes representatives from the Ministries of Transportation and Infrastructure and Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation and Huu-ay-aht First Nation,” said the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure in an email.

They went on to say that the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure is providing technical advice to support this work, and will continue to make the ministry’s engineering expertise available to the Huu-ay-aht First Nations as needed.

For Dennis, the planning work is done and now it’s a matter of waiting for a decision from Premier Horgan.

“We hope to hear soon,” said Dennis, “B.C. has a duty to look after the roads it owns.”

The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure says they have no timeline for a decision.