With the prospect of a long winter commuting on a forest service road ahead, concerned citizens in Buckridge, a small community between Quesnel and Williams Lake on the west side of the Fraser River, are turning to the federal government for assistance with the West Fraser Road washout problem.
Many stretches of the road were eroded during a period of high water levels in spring of 2018 on a section approximately 17 kilometres south of Quesnel.
David Wall, president of the Buckridge Community Association, met with Cariboo-Prince George MP Todd Doherty as well as MLA Coralee Oakes on Thursday (Nov. 15) to discuss drumming up support for quicker solutions.
The meeting could not have been more timely, as one of the first big dumps of snow blanketed the detour the community has to use in order to get to jobs and schools in Quesnel that very morning.
Wall says he left his home at around 10:30 a.m. and arrived at the top of Webster Lake Road around 11:00 a.m., noting there was no sign of plowing up until that point. It was concerning to him, as the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI) had promised a day and a night shift worker to ensure the roads were passable.
“It turns out there was a plow truck right at the junction of Garner Road and Webster Lake Road. However, he had been in the ditch since 7:30 in the morning,” he says.
“There was also an overturned vehicle on the other side of the road and another one in the ditch behind him.”
He says the road was really slippery the whole way into Quesnel, and he was sliding all over it despite only going 50-60 km/hr.
Sixty households will be using the detour to get to various jobs in town and 24 children ride a school bus for what can take upwards of two hours each way.
“There’s a kindergarten kid who is the first one to be picked up,” Wall says, “and that’s just after six in the morning, and she doesn’t get back home until five o’ clock.
“Now there’s discussion about putting an outhouse on the route somewhere,” he says. “Can you imagine the bus driver having to stop and help a kindergarten kid get their snow suit off to go to the bathroom?
Wall is not oblivious to what is involved in fixing the road but with MOTI saying solutions are still in the design phase and furthermore that the road is expected to be closed until 2020, he and his community members are upset.
“Roadways are supposed to be maintained to a certain level,” he says. “We pay taxes, so you kind of wonder why you have to bellyache and complain.
“Who wants to be begging all the time? I’d rather be commending them on their good work and thanking them for looking after the road.”
But as it is the squeaky wheel that gets the grease, he reached out to MP Doherty to discuss the issue and see what can be done.
Doherty says he is shocked at the inaction.
“Clearly the community is frustrated,” he says. “They feel like our provincial government has abandoned them, and understandably.”
The Cariboo-Prince George MP says he plans on banging on a few doors.
“Always respectfully,” he insists, “but whatever political agenda they have, first and foremost they were elected with a promise to serve our province, and that means all British Columbians, regardless of where they’re located.
“With such a critical piece of transportation infrastructure, seven months with no answer is unacceptable.”
Doherty says he is looking forward to getting back to Ottawa on Wednesday, where he has a meeting scheduled with Jonathan Wilkinson, the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard. He is hoping the minister will be able to put some pressure on his provincial counterparts who manage the creek which the road will have to be built across.
MLA Coralee Oakes says Thursday’s meeting was a positive one.
“I think it’s critically important that we bring the federal government into this as well,” she says. “We’ve been trying to get disaster financial assistance, but we’re not seeing the same level of success as Cache Creek or Clinton, where those landslides happened this year.”
She is most concerned about the delays in reporting from MOTI to a community desperate for answers.
“It’s unacceptable,” she says. “The only way we seem to get updates is if we go the route of outside pressure.
“We were clearly told that they would be providing an update to the community in the fall with some options, and we’re still waiting.”
And wait they will continue to do.
“They’re saying it’s high priority,” Wall says, “but can you imagine if this happened in the Lower Mainland? That road would have been fixed about a month after it happened.
“But we’re just Buckridge.
“That’s the impression we’re getting anyway.”