The bus involved in a crash on Bamfield Road on Friday, Sept. 13 is towed away from the scene. PHOTO COURTESY CTV NEWS VANCOUVER ISLAND

Bamfield, Anacla deserve safe access road, ombudsperson says

Roger Harris puts responsibility on B.C. gov’t to upgrade road after fatal bus crash

Government officials in Bamfield and Anacla are still advocating for improvements for the main road in and out of their communities following a fatal bus crash last year. The province has made a commitment to upgrading the road, but B.C.’s forestry watchdog says that a “principal change” is needed for former logging roads like Bamfield Main.

Roger Harris, Forest Safety Council Ombudsperson, made a presentation to the ACRD board on Wednesday, speaking to the report that came out of the University of Victoria following a fatal bus crash en route to the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre (BMSC) in September 2019. The report, released in June, included 43 recommendations for future field trips to the BMSC. Four of these were tied to road conditions:

– The University should ensure that all future trips to the BMSC travel and arrive during daylight hours.

– The WFP web page relies upon the occasional Twitter postings of WFP staff. A way to ensure these posts are at least daily should be found.

– The University should encourage the BMSC to take on the responsibility of developing a central information hub for the use of groups and transportation providers travelling to the BMSC.

– The University should encourage the BMSC to develop a “pilot car” service from Port Alberni to and from the BMSC for groups who want this.

READ MORE: University of Victoria changes Bamfield field trip protocol after fatal crash

Harris disagreed with the last two recommendations that the BMSC should take on these roles.

“If I’m going to go to Tofino, I certainly don’t phone the hotels out there to ask them what the road is like on the way in,” he said.

He also disagreed that the road should only be travelled during daylight hours.

“The province has a responsibility to provide equitable service to people around the province, whether you live in a First Nation or a community like Bamfield,” he said.

He pointed out that the BMSC is a “provincial asset” that is marketed by the government of B.C. A number of communities also exist at the end of the road that rely on the road for things like medical appointments.

“People should have an expectation that the road that provides the basic services to their communities should meet a standard that allows that road to be used safely 24 hours a day,” he said. This should include “real-time” information on road conditions, he added.

At this time, road maintenance is driven by a fixed budget that the province provides to Western Forest Products. Harris argues that maintenance should be driving the budget, instead.

“What’s needed here is a principal change, not just more money for maintenance,” he said.

In 2008, Harris released a report on B.C.’s logging roads, where he recommended creating a new designation for logging roads that serve as a community’s primary access road. The roads would be funded similarly to the public highway system. Twelve years later, Harris still stands behind this recommendation.

READ MORE: Forestry watchdog warned B.C. government about Bamfield Road in 2008

Huu-ay-aht First Nations chief councillor Robert Dennis Sr. also spoke about the Bamfield Road on Wednesday. In 2008, Huu-ay-aht hired Urban Systems to develop a proposal to upgrade the road by chip sealing most of it. Early this year, a working group reached an agreement on the scope of the project and budget which determined that it will cost around $30.7 million to upgrade the road. Huu-ay-aht will manage the construction of the project, and the nation is committing $5 million from its own budget.

The matter could be going to treasury by September, said Bamfield director Bob Beckett.

“At the very least, we have the premier making a commitment and vowing to get this road upgraded,” said Dennis. “We’ve never heard that from any previous premier.”

Dennis has been advocating for improvements to the road since he was first elected to his position more than 20 years ago.

“Persistance is my middle name,” he joked on Wednesday.

READ MORE: Road to recovery remains unpaved for Huu-ay-aht First Nations

The proposed improvements will eliminate dust, flooding and unprotected embankments, like the one that the bus went over in November.

Dennis said he has heard arguments from people who say that a chip-sealed road will lead to more traffic and more accidents.

“It’s too late to restrict traffic,” he said, pointing out that there are communities at the end of the road. “We can’t afford to have another fatal accident. People worry that Bamfield might become another Tofino,” he added. “But there’s nothing wrong with that. We all have to make a living. We all need an economy.”

The ACRD board voted on Wednesday to arrange a meeting with Premier John Horgan as soon as possible to discuss the Bamfield Road.

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