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  • Gayle Baker

Culverts 101 and Other Road Maintenance Challenges

July 22

Only 11 joined our conversation about roads maintenance at this ASK Salt Spring gathering in the United Church Meadow. A rich and interesting conversation, the low number of participants might lead one to believe that Salt Springers are quite content with the maintenance of our roads. And, listening to this ASK Salt Spring conversation, this supposition was supported: Despite some difficult questions, our time together in the Meadow on this lovely summer Friday was clearly marked by acknowledgement for the good job our road maintenance contractor, Emcon, is doing.

After our Territorial Acknowledgement, Emcon Operations Manager, Andrew Gaetz, began by telling us a bit about Emcon. Emcon has a Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MoTI) contract of approximately $13.5 million a year to maintain all provincial (not municipal) roads in a large area. This area includes the Southern Gulf Islands and Vancouver Island south from Crofton and west including Point Renfrew and Lake Cowichan. Approximately half of this contracted amount is spent on planned maintenance and the other half designated to address emergency repairs. We learned later in our gathering that Emcon spends approximately $1.3 million on Salt Spring non-emergency road maintenance each year.

This year has been especially difficult for Emcon due to the November flood, resulting in the washout of approximately 140 roads in the Emcon territory, costing approximately $6 million to simply reopen them. (The extensive road closures on Salt Spring took a large portion of this $6 million.)

One of the first questions for Andrew concerned this November flood with a participant detailing her terrifying experience working all night to stave off flooding at her home in the Isabella Point area. With culverts and ditches severely compromised, would anything be done to make sure that this flooding is not repeated in our next big storm?

Andrew had some good news: While Emcon’s task had been to get the roads open again, MoTI does recognize the serious drainage issues of the Isabella Point area and has undertaken a detailed geophysical study and hydrological surveys to help address these issues. When asked whether the results of these efforts will be complete before our next big rains, Andrew promised to contact MoTI to get more information about the timing of these studies as well as any needed work they identify.

While emergency work takes a priority, we learned that Emcon puts a great deal of effort in monitoring our roads and planning maintenance before these issues become emergencies. He supervises three managers who oversee 11 foremen and crews throughout his region and speaks to them each day concerning potential problems. In addition to constant patrols by these foremen, Emcon conducts regular inspections to document issues and develop the plan for addressing them.

Andrew welcomed us to contact the Emcon Call Centre at (866) 353-3136 to report any such concerns. And, we heard that this process works: A participant acknowledged Emcon for their quick work replacing a fallen pedestrian crosswalk sign within a day of its report.

While the focus of these regular inspections is maintenance, we also learned that Andrea is in constant contact with MoTI, especially our Area Manager, Owen Page, to discuss issues that exceed maintenance and require MoTI upgrades, repaving, etc.

During this gathering, we learned a lot about Emcon’s responsibility - and areas for which Emcon is not responsible:

  1. Line and Crosswalk Painting is another MoTI contract and is not in Emcon's area of responsibility. (Note: Even getting the paint needed has been a huge province-wide problem, but we have just been told by our MoTI Area Manager that centre lines on our major routes will be painted this year.)

  2. Traffic calming measures and new signage are also not Emcon’s job but are MoTI responsibilities; Emcon installs signage and traffic calming measures only when directed byMoTI. Emcon also replaces damaged signs.

  3. Potholes are Emcon’s responsibility. A big job on Salt Spring, Andrew was asked why these pothole fixes could not be improved. A participant questioned the current method of simply filling them and driving over them a few times. Wouldn’t be easier to do it right less often? Andrew is in discussions with his Salt Spring foreman about just this issue. Is it a better use of limited Emcon resources to bring a compactor over to Salt Spring to fill profiles or continue to fill them more frequently with on-island equipment?

  4. Removing graffiti from MoTI signs is an Emcon responsibility and a challenge that has become beyond frustrating in the past month, according to Andrew. While there are some options such as a protective coating for signs, according to Andrew, these options are even more expensive than the cost of replacing (and recycling) graffiti-marred signs. At a previous ASK Salt Spring gathering (, we learned from our RCMP Sargent Clive Seabrook that perpetrators of graffiti are being caught. A participant asked Andrew how these perpetrators could be required to make reparations rather than continuing to take the costs from Emcon’s limited maintenance budget. While no easy solutions, Andrew promised to consider options.

  5. Garbage - including large dumped times - on the MoTI right of way is the responsibility of Emcon - again taking significant resources that could be used for needed road maintenance.

  6. Removal of invasive species on the MoTI rights of way are the responsibility of Emcon. Luckily, MoTI has taken the lead on this issue by assigning an individual to to coordinate solutions. Andrew suggested that local groups seeking to battle invasive species on MoTI rights of way contact to get connected to plan a cohesive provincial strategy.

  7. Utilizing environmentally-responsible methods are also an Emcon responsibility, bound by contract to follow clearly-defined best environmental practices. We learned that Emcon crew are well-aware of fish habitat streams and timing for any work near them. They also take great care with salt, aware of the damage its mishandling can cause. (When asked whether Emcon could use beet juice instead of salt - as is used very effectively in Alberta - Andrew was intrigued, but also told us that the contract with MoTI currently requires the use of salt.) And. . . .

  8. Culverts. . .yes!

A large part of our remaining time together concerned culverts. We learned that all MoTI roads have ditches and culvert. Maintaining them is an enormous part of Emcon’s task, and Salt Spring’s serious drainage issues are high on Andrew’s list of concerns.

While reminding us that the culverts under our driveways are our responsibility and must be maintained, we also learned that there are approximately 20,000 large culverts throughout Emcon’s large area of responsibility, each costing an estimated $25,000 to replace. When replaced, the general engineering rule suggests that the replacement culvert be 20% larger. It also suggests a 20% increase in the protective roadbed above it for every additional foot of the culvert’s diametre.

With a 25-year life expectancy for steel culverts, Andrew was asked about longer-lasting smooth-interior plastic culverts. We learned that supply issues are severely-impacting Emcon’s ability to replace culverts, with plastic far harder to acquire than steel. And, even steel is impacted by supply issues: Normal wait for an order of culverts has been three weeks; this year, Andrew only recently received his March culvert order.

Also, while Andrew agreed that plastic culverts are superior in many ays, he reminded us that their smooth interior accelerates the movement of water through them. While optimal in some cases, this increased speed is a problem in other instances.

Salt Spring culverts are inspected each fall, forming the basis of the replacement plan. But, you can help by calling (866) 353-3136 if you see a damaged or plugged road (not driveway) culvert.

As our time together drew to a close, and Andrew expressed concerns about catching the ferry - a concern shared by so many Salt Springers! - we bid a grateful Farewell to him. Expressing our appreciation of Emcon’s efforts to address the overwhelming task of maintaining our roads, we lauded Andrew for his tenacity, good cheer in the face of these challenges, willingness to listen, and openness to discuss out of the box solutions with us. (Thanks, Andrew!)

Please join us this Friday, July 29, 11-1, in the United Church Meadow to welcome our Chamber’s new manager, Alexander Fischer-Jean as well as the Chamber’s hardworking Board Members.

What would you like to ask them?

  • What is this talk about murals in Ganges?

  • What initiatives to you plan to undertake this year?

  • How are you addressing local business concerns about ferries and housing?

  • What are your biggest challenges?

  • Successes?

  • How do you see the Chamber working with other groups to address our most important issues?

  • And?

Please join us this Friday, July 29 to welcome Alexander and Chamber Board members!

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.

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