EDITORIAL: Could Malahat scenario happen on Highway 4?

An accident happened on April 16 that received brief media play across the province before it disappeared from the headlines. And the echo was barely felt here in the Alberni Valley, despite there being some potential local consequences.

A B-train tanker full of gasoline crashed on the Malahat near the entrance to Goldstream Provincial Park, spilling 30,000 litres of fuel into the Goldstream River.

Thousands of emerging chum fry and coho smelts died off in the spill. The highway was closed for nearly 24 hours as emergency personnel worked to clean up the mess.

Fortunately, the Mill Bay ferry was in operation and allowed at least a small way for people to get around the blocked area. Here in Port Alberni, were a similar accident to happen—perhaps from a B-train hauling coal?—we have no easy way to get around a highway closure.

Of concern to Cowichan residents is that the Mill Bay ferry is aging. And the E&N rail line has been closed for maintenance until further notice—cutting off whatever meagre north-south commuter rail service the Island has.

Last week, the provincial government announced a review of the reaction to the Malahat closure. It better look closely at alternate routes. And Alberni Valley officials would do well to pay attention to what they have to say—or even be proactive and ask for a similar study for Highway 4 (not on our dime, of course).

We’ve been asking for a second highway route connecting the east and west coast of the Island for decades, and the cost keeps rising. Perhaps it’s time to weigh rail costs against highway costs and see which comes out cheaper.

— Alberni Valley News