- Our Town
Band gives nod to TCH upgrade
Long-requested improvements to the lethal stretch of highway at Hoffman’s Bluff are moving closer to reality.
Hoffman’s Bluff, 10 kilometres west of Chase, saw another fatality Monday when a pick-up truck and a compact sedan crashed, killing the 25-year-old Enderby woman driving the sedan.
Moving improvements forward is a vote by the Neskonlith Indian Band that saw about 94 per cent of members favour a land transfer to the provincial Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure. In return, the Neskonlith will receive land and other benefits.
The ministry’s plans include four-laning and realigning three kilometres through Hoffman’s Bluff, 1.2 kilometres of them within the Neskonlith reserve #2.
Although safety has been a concern for the Neskonlith, just as important has been the need to ensure cultural heritage sites are protected.
Neskonlith Chief Judy Wilson says the whole highway corridor is seen as the Cradle of the Secwepemc people – a nation of 17 bands occupying the south-central area of B.C.
“Equally paramount was ensuring ancient burial landforms and village sites were protected, some dating back over 8,000 years old,” said Wilson. “The bands worked collectively on a monument that will be placed near Miner’s Bluff this year to recognize our Secwepemc ancestors and our people who have been here since time immemorial. Our own workers are doing the archaeology, ethnographic studies, and we are learning a lot more about this important corridor which studies indicate is the ‘Cradle of Secwepemc’ peoples.”
In 2009 an ancient burial ground was uncovered and, in 2013, an ancient village site.
Wilson said a lot of work has gone into involving all band members in the process, work which included contacting members individually by going to their homes as well as holding community information meetings. The concerns of the five or six per cent who didn’t vote in favour will still be considered, she says.
“It’s important that leadership look at all pros and cons so we can make sure all concerns are addressed.”
Overall, “It took a lot of due diligence and care from the collective work of bands and also the ministry of highways.”
Most importantly, she says, “we’re the ones having the say and the determination of the site… To have First Nations involved, it certainly sets a precedent.”
The agreement has the potential to facilitate the process to upgrade the highway and the Salmon River Bridge at the west end of town.
“The critical areas along the corridor certainly have to be looked at. The bridge area before Salmon Arm is at a critical point where safety is an issue, and also the highway does cause concerns…,” Wilson said, pointing to flooding of the delta and river.
She says studies must be done and the ministry has met with the band about various concerns, including the bridge as well as the turn-off to First Nations Road.
“The projects coming up would be moving forward from Hoffman’s all the way to Salmon Arm. The priorities along there certainly have to be looked at and Neskonlith certainly would be looking at our priorities in Salmon Arm, like the intersection at First Nations Road.”
She also said the Neskonlith will be meeting with the City of Salmon Arm on a number of issues and the bridge is likely going to be one of them.
Regarding Hoffman’s Bluff, a press release from the Neskonlith notes that it will be several months before all parties are ready to sign a final agreement. Along with the Neskonlith and the transportation ministry, the memorandum of agreement must be signed by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, as well as the federal Department of Justice.
“However, with the strong vote of support for the project, the band council will be working on a short-term permit with the Ministry of Transportation to allow the highway construction project to proceed to tender,” states the Neskonlith release. “Construction on the Hoffman’s Bluff project could begin as soon as late 2014, with an estimated two-year time for completion.”
The ministry states that it, too, is pleased the Neskonlith band has supported the project and voted in support of the land transfer.
“This is the direct result of the positive ongoing relationship with Chief Judy Wilson on behalf of the Neskonlith Indian Band. We look forward to building on this important partnership with the Neskonlith Indian Band in the years to come,” states an email to the Observer from the ministry. “We will be working to finalize this land transfer as soon as possible so that we can move ahead with the tender of this important project.”