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  • Gayle Baker

Learning Lots from Emcon, our Roads Maintenance Managers

June 26

Fifteen came to the United Church Meadow on a lovely summer day to welcome our Chamber’s Jessica Harkema as well as Emcon managers Andrew Gaetz and Lisa Herschmiller as our guests. We began with a brief summary of Emcon’s responsibilities as well as those roads-related services for which they have no responsibility. Some of their areas of responsibility include: potholes, small paving jobs, sweeping/plowing, brush cutting on Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MoTI ) rights of way, and other actions needed to maintain our roads to a safe rural standard. (Painting does not fall into their area of responsibility, nor do major decisions like upgrades, large paving projects, speed limits, and signs, for example.)

We began with a question about Corbett Road and the large number of heavy trucks using it due to the construction of Croftonbrook. Emcon managers were asked to look at the area that now needs filling as a result of wear when this heavy traffic and cars drive slightly off the pavement to avoid one another on this narrow road. Andrew promised to follow-up to see about filling this area.

Although our island has now been swept, it was noted that an area of Kings Lane has been missed. Andrew noted and welcomed this information.

There was a brief discussion about how our potholes are filled. It seems that instead of using a

compactor to drive over the asphalt, currently only trucks drive over this filling. As a result, these potholes need to be filled and then re-filled often. Andrew explained that Salt Spring does not currently have a compactor. He also explained that filling potholes was, by design, a temporary option, designed to be utilized until a section of road makes it to the top of the list for repaving. But, Andrew agreed that the current method for filling potholes may not be the most efficient way to proceed. He committed to explore acquiring the use of one of the compactor trucks on Salt Spring. We were reminded that expenditures, like bringing a compactor here, must be balanced with other needs as everything must fall within the budget given to Emcon by MoTI.

When one asked if Emcon was responsible for all of Salt Spring, we learned that their area extends from Crofton south and includes Port Renfrew to the west and all the Gulf Islands to the east. Their contract totals approximately $13 million a year. While Emcon is a large organization with multiple crews and 11 managers, Salt Spring has a crew but no managers are stationed at the Central location. Our nearest managers are in Duncan.

One participant lauded Emcon for their quick response to a stop sign that was hidden by foliage, both obscuring the sign but also forcing cars to venture far into fast moving traffic on North End Road to see oncoming cars. While credit was given for the needed cutting within a few hours, the guest wondered why the cutting was so minimal, guaranteeing the need for more trimming in the near future. Andrew remembers that incident. . . .the crew had been called away for an emergency and had been forced to leave the job before completing all the intended trimming.

It was also noted that cyclists and walkers on Fernwood Road must walk into the street as the shoulder is impassable due to encroaching bushes and trees. Andrew was very familiar with the problem area and noted ruefully that this same problem challenges Emcon throughout Salt Spring. (Our wet spring has made this issue even more problematic.) To address this problem, he is experimenting with a plan to hire local tree cutters with bucket trucks to trim and then chip the overhead branches. While this is a superior solution, allowing trees to be trimmed higher and debris removed, it is also a more expensive solution. Andrew is piloting this program and will assess its effectiveness after has enough data to balance the higher costs against improved results.

Everyone’s attention was piqued when we learned what happens to the resulting chips. The answer that they are dumped created quite a bit of energy among the group, many wanting to see these valuable chips used for park pathways as well for private projects. According to Andrew, it might be possible to make these chips available. Andrew promised to speak to crew manager, Ole, to see if a good location could be found to dump them for local use. (I will work with Andrew to address this.)

When asked about the road up Mount Maxwell connecting to the provincial park’s road, we learned that it has been graded twice this year. The provincial part of the road continues to be in poor repair, recommended for 4-wheeled-drive vehicles only. Jessica told us that the Chamber had been told that provincial equipment requires a road able to support his heavy equipment, something that Mount Maxwell Road cannot offer. The Chamber is suggesting folks take a different route and hike part of the way to the park.

It was mentioned that there is a dead tree on Crofton Road near the hospital that is likely to fall during the next storm. When it does fall, it will take out power lines as well as impeding access to the hospital. Andrew promised to take a look at this dangerous tree and determine if it is Emcon’s responsibility or if it is a BC Hydro issue. (He will let me know.)

One participant thanked Emcon for a promising new collaboration with PARC for fixing potholes near Mouat park. While these potholes were on PARC property, Emcon filled them when they were in the area with the materials. A promising partnership, it is hoped that similar partnering efforts will be implemented, resulting in sizable cost savings for our community.

What should we do about abandoned vehicles on the right of way in neighbourhoods? We learned from Lisa that we should call RCMP to deal with derelict vehicles on both the right of way as well as private property. She told us about her work with our RCMP to successfully remove vehicles on Seaview, acknowledging the RCMP as wonderful partners. She assured us that our RCMP crew now has a full understanding of the rules surrounding derelict vehicles. When asked what happens to these vehicles, we learned that MoTI pays for their removal, using the money from the resulting scrap metal to fund this removal program.

Is there anything that can be done about the abandoned vehicles in the Vesuvius parking lot? It was suspected that this parking lot belongs to MoTI, but Andrew will check to make sure.

We learned that a camper is not supposed to be parked on the side of the road for more than 24 hours. We were also reminded that our desire to keep unsightly vehicles off our streets must be balanced by the recognition that those folks sleeping in campers need a place to live. By towing them away, we are taking away someone’s home. Unfortunately, the campers on Seaview made quite a lot of noise, bothering neighbors and impacting their rights to live in peace. It was pointed out that communities can designate welcoming places for campers for the short term with sanitation facilities and enforcement. (Santa Barbara - one of the most unwelcoming cities for campers - offer a registration system and certain church parking lots, with open bathrooms, for transient campers.)

What can we do to walk safely on the harbourside along Lower Ganges? Hazardous for pedestrians, it is dirty, littered with vehicles for sale, and pocked with ankle-turning potholes. It was agreed that, despite its amazing views, it is both an unsafe as well as unsightly place for pedestrians. While it was noted that the North Ganges Transportation project will soon provide a safe place for pedestrians on the other side of the street, participants insisted that something must be done to make the harbourside safe as well, insisting that many will choose not to cross the street to walk on the pathway. Andrew agreed to look into this; I let him know that this subject had been raised several times and that both Gary and I are aware and seeking solutions. (Hopefully, together we can make this area both safer and less of an eyesore.)

Line painting, not an Emcon responsibility, is managed by MoTI’s Ron Danvers and done through a contract with LaFrentz. It has been confirmed that Salt Spring will get centre lines painted this summer. It is unclear whether all centerlines will be painted as it appears that the commitment may be for major roads only. We may not know until crews arrive as they must paint on Vancouver Island first. It is only when this has been completed that they will know what funding is left for Salt Spring.

Is there any way to find out how much Emcon spends on Salt Spring at the end of the year? Andrew did not have an answer to this question, but he promised to find out if there is an easy way to get this information.

Lisa asked us not to put rocks on the right of way. Not only do they make it impossible for mowers to cut the grass, but, often hidden by this uncut grass, they can be a hazard to cars that may have to go slightly off the roads to park and do not know rocks are lurking there.

When it was asked how we know where the right of way is located, we learned that, in general, it stretches from the ditch to the street. The one exception to this is our driveway which we own, holding responsibility and liability for them as well. The culverts under our driveways are ours as well and need to be kept clear so that our roads are not flooded and damaged. (Any homes built after 2008 had to formally apply for a permit for a driveway so that it could be removed from the MoTI right of way.)

One very surprising piece of information is that locals are not allowed to remove invasives from the right of way without first applying for a permit from MoTI. A shock to many of us, we were told that one reason for this is because some rights of way may be dangerous. (Lisa told us of hidden chicken wire in a right of way that left her cut and bleeding.) MoTI does not want to accept liability for folks getting hurt, preferring to clear these rights of way themselves. Also, cut invasives are more flammable that those that are alive. Piles of them along the roadside are not only unsightly but also a dangerous fire hazard.

The solution: If you want to clear your right of way of invasives, get a permit. With this permit, MoTI will be aware of the clearing and will remove the invasives when the work is done. (Remember though - by applying for they permit, you are taking on the liability for this project.)

Some wondered if communities could apply for a permit, clearing and removing invasives in larger areas more efficiently. (I will try to find this answer.)

The MoTI contract requires Emcon to sweep our roads once every year. As gravel-free shoulders are essential to cyclist safety, Andrew was asked if there was a possibility of sweeping more often? While the good news is that Salt Spring now has its own sweeping equipment, the bad news is that it can currently only be done in wet weather due to the dust cloud it creates in dry weather. To address this, Andrew is upgrading the water system on the sweeper so that it can be used in dry weather and will see if multiple sweepings each year can be done within Emcon’s budget.

Do the roads have to be swept again before they are painted? No - the painting crew have a blower that clears the road of debris before painting.

We learned a bit about the new Transportation Commission Traffic Calming Working Group. Enthusiastic volunteers know that the challenge will be to convince MoTI to approve the recommended changes such as lowering speed limits. (The speed limit in Ganges is now 50 km/h; initial thoughts are that is should be 30km/h.) Traffic calming can also be achieved by methods other than speed limit reductions, such as narrowing of the road, islands, traffic circles, stop signs, and digitized speed limit monitors.

Decades ago, parents got together to build a pathway to Fernwood School, via Whims Road, so that their children could walk to school in safety. Needless to say, these volunteer parents never pulled a permit for this pathway. Now that it needs maintenance, who is responsible? While CRD has been asked by an Island Pathways delegation to the Transportation Commission to take over this maintenance, it is currently on MoTI right of way. Stay tuned.

As 1:00 approached, everyone had asked their question(s) and it was clear that Andrew and Lisa wanted to check out some of the things they had learned before boarding the ferry home. We said a grateful farewell, unanimously appreciative of the time they both spent to journey here to listen, the willingness to get answers for us, and cheerfulness with which they approached even the most daunting of problems.

Jessica told us that Phase Three officially began on Wednesday, June 24, almost guaranteeing far more visitors to Salt Spring. The message that the Chamber is trying to send is that visitors are welcome but also expected to employ safety measures.

The Market in the Park (aka the Saturday Market) will now take place Thursdays and Fridays from 10-4, beginning Thursday, July 16. The number of vendors will be limited to 50 each day due to social distancing requirements ,with half coming each day. (It is possible that venders will be asked to switch their day so that each vendor group comes some Thursdays and some Fridays.) Depending upon the success of this experiment, it is possible that the Market will move to Fridays and Saturdays later this summer. We also learned that Artcraft is planning to open July 10. Check Driftwood article:

When the possibility a pedestrian village was raised, Jesica told us that previous inquiries to this have proven to be negative from a broad group of stakeholders. This was based on many hurdles including the reality that a public way cannot be closed and that boats need access to the launch dock. In summary, closing any of Ganges’s roads is a very big challenge due to parking, accessibility, and traffic flow.

Jessica reported that folks want and need vacations and that seems to be resulting in longer bookings, good news for many of those who provide accommodations on Salt Spring.

Some manufacturing (yes, we do have some manufacturing) saw a 30% drop due to the pandemic. While some seem to be rebounding now, Jessica predicts that times could be even harder during the winter as many have a business model dependent upon a thriving spring, summer and fall season. Government aid will eventually stop flowing. Without profitable seasons, business savings may be depleted, threatening their survival. The widespread repercussions of losing businesses are significant and include loss of jobs, tax base, community supporters/funders, and a downward spiral of pride in our community.

When Jessica was asked what we can do to support our businesses, she suggested that, in addition to buying local, we needed to invest quickly in housing so that we can retain our dwindling workforce. She spoke of a hot real estate market, partially-fueled by those who have now learned that they can work effectively at home and are leaving urban centres for rural communities. While these new homeowners also contribute to our economy, they are hired elsewhere, effectively taking homes away from our local workforce. (And, presumably, often able to pay more than our local workers.)

Concerning affordable housing, we took a moment to celebrate the imminent opening of the first phase of Community Services’s Salt Spring Commons 24-unit affordable housing complex, with half expected to be ready for occupation this fall and the rest available in the spring 2021.

There was a brief discussion about the possible closure of the Middle School and what community needs could be met with use of this building - an centre for art? healing? education? or???

There was some discouragement that Salt Spring did not have a more cohesive plan to coordinate our Phase Three Covid-19 response. While businesses have clearly-defined rules, there is not a concerted effort to help businesses inform their customers nor support for them work together so that all who shop know what is expected of them

For example, why are there not signs for all who use our parks detailing the rules?

While there is still great concern about the virus, it was theorized that the province is no longer seeing this as an emergency. As a result, the initial self-isolation rules are changing but the new rules lack clarity. leaving too many with questions and no clear route to get answers.

The time to disperse already passed (as well as the unexpected brief light rain), the group slowly broke up. Some helped to fold chairs and pack up while others continued discussing the intriguing issues that had been introduced during this gathering on a lovely summer day in the Meadow.

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