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  • Gayle Baker

Are We Prepared for the Increased Traffic Volumes and Climate Changes Buffeting Our Island?

January 28

Eighteen gathered to ask our questions of our special guests, Emcon managers, Andrew Gaetz and Dillon Thornton, and CRD Emergency Operations managers, Charles Nash and John Wakefield. After our Territorial Acknowledgement, participants began by asking about our road maintenance. There was general agreement that Emcon has done an amazing job addressing an enormous task. While providing consistent maintenance is challenging for all roads, Emcon’s task on Salt Spring is even more challenging as our roads were constructed to yesterday's climate and traffic volumes and have not been upgraded to address our current realities.

When asked what we as islanders should do to help, Emcon managers responded that being vocal to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MoTI) cannot hurt. They also warned us that the upgrades that we need cost millions and millions of dollars - dollars that are spread across the entire province to address all core routes and essential road needs.

Responsible for the maintenance of provincial roads from Duncan south, including the Gulf Islands, Emcon’s maintenance decisions are largely based on traffic volumes. When compared to other Vancouver Island roads, Salt Spring seldom competes well. When asked how these traffic volumes are determined, we were assured that traffic counts are conducted regularly on Salt Spring and that the data is available at dataBc:

A participant wondered if our maintenance needs were further complicated by materials transport costs. Andrew agreed, telling us that it would cost $1 million to get enough asphalt to surface 3-4 kilometres barged to Salt Spring. A large proportion of Emcon’s total annual budget, this clearly-illustrates island challenges. We also learned that, while the MoTI contract with Emcon does take into account higher island costs, it does not result in more money for Emcon as their allocation is the same every year for the life of the contract with only cost of living increases.

When asked if Emcon had the resources to respond to the recent flooding, Andrew responded that his team has been working tirelessly to address a large number of winter challenges, including what some are calling our 200-year flood. Clear that these weather events are likely to intensify due to climate change, Andrew assured us that Emcon now has a larger supply of signs and barriers. Dillon acknowledged islanders - a few of whom were with us at this ASK Salt Spring gathering - for helping during the recent flood.

Concerning the lament about potholes, we were reminded that filling potholes was designed to be a temporary fix for a road needing rehabilitation. That said, a participant wondered whether better materials and installation could save time in the long run. Isn’t there a better way than filling the same potholes over and over again, sometimes multiple times a year? Andrew agreed, telling us that a new, longer-lasting, method, involving equipment to keep asphalt hot during pothole filling, is being piloted in Duncan with promising results. To better compact this fill, Salt Spring would need equipment from Vancouver Island - an expensive, but not impossible, option.

Andrew and Dillon fully understand the need for more sweeping of our street than the contracted single sweeping per year. It was agreed that, as cycling increases, the need for swept roads is fast-becoming a major safety concern for cyclists. Multiple sweeping options are being explored, including acquiring a street sweeper akin to those in urban areas to more easily address particularly-problematic spots. One already-identified problem area is the ever-increasing debris accumulating along the new cement blocks on Lower Ganges Road just north of Booth Canal Road. One advantage of this new sweeper is that it will pick up debris rather than sweeping it into our ditches, a win as Emcon works hard to keep our too-often inadequate ditches and culverts free-flowing.

While a question better addressed to MoTI, a participant asked about speed limits. Given the clearly-increasing volume of vehicles on roads not built to withstand this increased traffic, . . .shouldn’t our speed limits be reduced? Our guests from Emcon as well as Emergency Operations were in agreement that our speeds should be lowered, even offering their support if needed.

Before attention shifted to our emergency preparedness, Andrew and Dillon ( reminded us that they welcome our feedback, both critical as well as appreciative :) A participant gave his heartfelt thanks to Emcon’s hard work removing a number of dangerous trees in the vicinity of Greenwood’s. Another expressed appreciation for the herculean work getting our ditches cleared - luckily just before our recent flood. And, Emcon was also congratulated for some amazing community partnerships in which they and our RCMP worked together to rid our island of some abandoned vehicles as well as their help filling PARC potholes. Thanks, Andrew, Dillon, and our dedicated Salt Spring Emcon team!

And, lest we forget, we were reminded by a participant how delighted he had been when he arrived here three decades ago. He dodged potholes, bumping over washboard sections, and driving a whole lot slower than ever before. He saw this as a constant reminder that he had escaped the big city for a rural community with forests, locally-owned shops, and - yes - terrible roads. Maybe we need to slow down a bit and experience that delight, remembering that we choose our lovely, rural island rather than a fast-paced freeway-rich urban centre?

Turning the spotlight to emergency preparedness, we welcomed CRD Emergency Operations’ Manager Charles Nash and Deputy John Wakefield, learning immediately that they are switching roles February first with John taking over the lead position. Their number one priority is communications, including both community-wide education initiatives and multi-agency collaboration to fully-understand and address our vulnerabilities.

While these agencies will endeavour to set up ever-better systems, we were reminded multiple times during this gathering that our best protection is to fully-prepare ourselves: How should we do this?

  1. First, sign up for Alertable:

  2. Make sure that you are connected to your local neighbourhood POD. In addition to many other benefits, this connection will help you to get in-person help and notifications during emergencies.

  3. Identify your risks and create your family emergency plan, making sure that everyone understands what they will need to do.

  4. Pack your bags. . . a number of them! You will need to pack basic needs to sustain you and your family for as long as two weeks. You need personal bags, bags in your car, supplies for your business, and, please, don’t forget to pack bags for the needs of your pets during emergencies.

While our first responders will do their best to support needs during an emergency, Charles warned us that a knight in shining armor just might not be able to get to you and your family. The strong message: Do everything the you can to prepare to care for yourself and loved ones for as long as two weeks.

We were asked to consider the question: What would you need do if you could not leave your property of a week or more?

Understanding that the Emergency Program has been in a responsive, rather than planning, mode recently, Charles and John are committed to continued collaboration with all First Responders in addition to other agencies such as Emcon, MoTI, and BC Ferries. This will result in, among other things, new and updated plans to address our vulnerabilities.

When asked what he thought were Salt Spring’s major vulnerabilities, Charles believes that fire is our major threat, reminding us that we have created a semi-urban rural community in the middle of a forest. We can begin to prepare for this threat by applying FireSmart principles to our properties. ( While preparation for earthquakes, flood, heat domes, windstorms, and pandemics is more difficult, our Emergency Operations team is forming partnerships with our local agencies to address our vulnerabilities to these events as well.

While agency collaboration is essential, John and Charles are also committed to focus much energy on a robust island-wide education initiative. While made more difficult during our pandemic, both Charles and John look forward to offering a variety of community workshops as soon as we can again gather safely.

As 1:00 was approaching, we bid these busy folks a warm farewell, thanking them for their honesty, vision for a safer Salt Spring, willingness to listen - and for giving their time so generously to us. (Thank-you Andrew, Dillon, Charles, and John!)

Please join us 11-1 February 4 to welcome MLA Adam Olsen.

Given COVID concerns, we will be gathering virtually via Zoom. Please click:

(In case you need it, the passcode is 947504)

What do you want to ask him?

  • What has been learned from our weather emergency?

  • Can you give us a preview of the 2022 Legislative session?

  • Do you think a review of the Islands Trust Act will be undertaken in the near future?

  • Any suggestions about addressing our road concerns from a totally new perspective?

  • What’s next for the Police Act Review Committee?

  • What’s happening in efforts to protect our old growth?

  • And?

See you Friday, February 4, 11-1 on Zoom to welcome Adam!

Any question, anytime:

Want to see reports from all the ASK Salt Spring gatherings?

Want to help? ASK Salt Spring now has a Save-a-Tape box at Country Grocer.

We love your receipts! Remember: #15

(Our Partners. . . .

Our rent - reduced through the generosity of our Library -

is being paid for byIsland Savings’ Simple Generosity grant.

Cookie and coffee fixings are the result of the generosity of Country Grocer.

What a team!)

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