Salmon Arm residents can expect further construction delays on Highway 1.
While preloading work for the Salmon Arm West project, which includes the replacement for the Salmon River Bridge, was initially expected to begin last fall, comments made last week by B.C. Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Claire Trevena suggest the project may not gain any further traction until next year.
“We’re looking at 2019, that’s the intention; we’re obviously doing some negotiation with local First Nations… making sure that everybody is real comfortable we’re going the right way,” Trevena told media in an Aug. 3 interview.
The minister acknowledged Highway 1 improvement projects near Chase would see the same delay.
“We’ve been talking to the community in Chase about what we can do to make the road through their community that much better. There’s always continuing negotiations in making sure, but yes, we’re looking at 2019 and hopefully we’ll start seeing some work happening there.”
Trevena’s comments on the delays and local First Nations involvement reflect a comments made by Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure regional manager Jennifer Fraser during a July presentation to Columbia Shuswap Regional District board.
“I recognize that the project is delayed,” said Fraser regarding the Salmon Arm West project. “The challenge is continuing to work with the First Nations communities adjacent to the project to ensure we can reach an accommodation agreement.”
In response to Trevena’s comments, Shuswap MLA Greg Kyllo met with Neskonlith Chief Judy Wilson Friday, Aug. 3, to see why the minister and her staff “seem to be putting the delays squarely on the back of the Neskonlith First Nation.”
“That’s not entirely true,” Kyllo noted after the meeting.
Wilson explained that while Minister Trevena has visited the area on more than one occasion, not once have the two met to discuss concerns the Neskonlith have regarding the on-reserve phase of the Salmon Arm West project. Wilson is also dismayed with how there has been no input on the project and no formal consultation.
“It’s backwards, they should have been talking with the communities,” said Wilson. “And then, you know, they all of a sudden say they have a 100 per cent design and we haven’t had any input to that. That’s problematic for anyone. We’re wanting to sort that out and change that. Our members who live there and drive every day, of course they have safety concerns.”
Wilson notes, however, that there are ways to move forward with the project while allowing time for proper consultation.
“What we did in other situations is we… worked on the issue but we had provided a process to move forward,” said Wilson. “So I provided a solution, but again, it has to include that proper engagement and consultation of our members.”
Kyllo said this was the process supported by the previous BC Liberal government, where projects were broken up in phases, allowing for some work to proceed while the province worked through the consultation piece.
“Jennifer Fraser, I actually suggested that to her last fall, I said if there’s concerns around phase three with Neskonlith, why can you not just break up the project and deal specifically with phase 1, which is the Salmon River Bridge replacement project, and that will buy you three or four years until phase three actually goes to construction in order to formalize any other consultation. And her comment to me was no, we can’t do that…,” said Kyllo. “So, if the intent of the minister is to accelerate (Trans-Canada improvement projects), why have their not been any discussions or looking back to previous agreements they’ve undertaken with Neskonlith in order to advance these works?”
Wilson said she will be following up with Minister Trevena with a letter, hoping to set up a proper meeting and come to a meaningful solution.
Last month, City of Salmon Arm council agreed to send councillors to Victoria to try and meet with Minister Trevena and discuss the delayed Salmon Arm West project.
“We are into July and we haven’t seen movement yet, so I think we need to go down and make a visit and make our presence known, let the minister again know of the community’s importance regarding this project. I would like to see it happen as soon as possible,” said Coun. Alan Harrison.