Salmon Arm Council has been assured that changes to the Trans-Canada Highway in the area of the Salmon River Bridge are in the preliminary stages. And, before the work moves full speed ahead, the public will be consulted.
Those assurances leave at least one business owner unconvinced the preliminary plan will change, however.
Transportation ministry representatives came to council’s Nov. 10 meeting to explain what their plans are for replacing the bridge and four-laning the highway at the west end of town.
Council requested the meeting to get an update and hear if public input will be considered, particularly in light of concerns raised by DeMille’s Farm Market. A ministry plan DeMille’s was shown in the summer would leave the business at the end of a dead-end frontage road.
Ken Aura, senior project manager for the Southern Interior region, told council he expects an open house will be held early in the new year.
He explained there are three sections to the work: two kilometres of highway from 30th to 10th Street; about 1.5 kilometres from First Avenue to 30th Street which includes the bridge; and 2.8 kilometres from Indian Reserve #3 to First Avenue.
He said plans for four-laning from 30th to 10th Street are further along than the other two, and construction is likely to begin in 2016.
“We’re moving into detailed design,” Aura said of the 30th to 10th Street stretch. “First Avenue to 30th, and IR#3 to First are early in the process. We’re still working on preliminary design.”
Regarding the 30th to 10th Street stretch, he said the community will see work in the coming months, such as surveying, drilling and environmental studies.
Council asked many questions on several issues, including business access and the fate of agricultural land.
Coun. Marg Kentel said she thought the Ruths (owners of Pedro Gonzalez) had spoken to the ministry about highway plans before their building was rebuilt following a fire. She was referring to a complaint that the plan shows the highway travelling about 10 feet from the door.
Aura said: “They may have spoken to the local approvals office. At that time, probably the four-laning project wasn’t active.”
Kentel wasn’t convinced.
“I find this a little bit surprising as it was built this year. We’ve been talking about this (four-laning) for some time.”
Regarding DeMille’s, Kentel noted the owners donated land to create a safe turning lane off the highway.
Aura assured: “Accommodating businesses is one of the priorities for us.”
Coun. Debbie Cannon asked if she is understanding correctly that the ministry is open to the thoughts and concerns of stakeholders.
“It’s not etched in stone…? So if they have an alternative thought process, that’s considered?”
Aura replied, yes.
Coun. Alan Harrison pointed out that council was happy to have the ministry at the meeting, noting that this and past councils have lobbied for improvements to the bridge. He emphasized that the main challenge on the south side of the highway appears to be accommodating DeMille’s, ensuring the highway changes do not kill their business.
Owner Brad DeMille remains skeptical the ministry will change its plan.
“It’s the same plan I saw 15 years ago – it hasn’t honestly changed from then. And it hasn’t changed from the plan I saw in the summer,” he said.
He fights back emotion as he contemplates the fate of his business.
“It’s taken all these years to build this place up and you see a one-way dead end road..”
Dale Ruth agrees that changes need to be made.
“I’ll be interested to see if they hear what we’re saying and listen to us.”
He said he endorses and supports Brad DeMille’s ideas.
“He’s important. We’ll be on the frontage road together and I want his business healthy.”
Aura said the ministry will be talking to farmers and the Agricultural Land Commission.
“Ultimately as part of the wider highway footprint, there will be agricultural land impacted. We will have to make an application to the ALC to have it removed. Usually we get an agrologist to assist us. Typically there’s quite a bit of back and forth with the ALC.”
Coun. Denise Reimer asked about consultations with First Nations.
Aura said the ministry has had good discussions with them.
“They, not surprisingly, have many of the same concerns as anyone else,” he said, which include access, further development, community access regarding trail development…”