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  • Gayle Baker

Road Maintenance 101

January 31:

A large number of Salt Springers, totaling 29, came to ask their questions and learn from three managers of Emcon, our new roads maintenance contractor. As the first time in the memories of most that our roads maintenance contractor has come to Salt Spring to listen to concerns, there was heartfelt acknowledgment by all of the efforts Emcon is making to reach out to us.

Many had specific concerns about their neighbourhood road, ranging from overfull gutters, icy curves, and fast-encroaching invasive species - especially gorse - to the request for information about when to expect their road to be cleared after a snowfall. Many were surprised that Emcon staff and managers know our island extremely well and are aware of each of the concerns presented. They even referred to specific messages recorded on their hazard line (1-866-353-3136) which had been left by Salt Springers in the room.

The takeaway message from each of these specific questions was that Emcon managers and staff know Salt Spring roads very, very well. One manager who spoke with great knowledge of our roads challenges has lived on Salt Spring for over 40 years and has been working on our roads for a very long time, first under the direction go Main Roads and now employed by Emcon.

When a concern is received on the hazard line (1-866-353-3136), it is logged and discussed to assess its priority in the daunting work plan Emcon has undertaken. If the concern falls under the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MoTI,) it is referred to them. Emcon and MoTI meet monthly to discuss progress as well as areas in which collaboration is required.

Folks left assured that, while all issues will not be solved immediately, problems are constantly being identified and a long-term strategic plan being developed to address them.

Roads are plowed according to a sequence, addressing main routes first, then bus routes, etc. leaving smaller residential roads until major roads have been plowed. If another snowfall or freeze occurs in the midst of the plowing sequence, Emcon must begin the cycle all over again, plowing the major routes again before going to the minor residential roads for their first plowing. It was suggested that we watch the weather - knowledge that another freeze or snowfall has hit will help us to understand why our neighborhood road is still covered with snow.

Concerning spills: Emcon’s only option is to add sand. Canutech, on Vancouver Island is fully-equipped to handle the large spills. On small spills, our Fire Department has been very helpful working to help address these problems. They also left with a better understanding of the challenges Emcon faces to address our roads maintenance issues and things that we as a community can do to help. These include:

Have you ever shoveled your driveway only to find that the snowplow has buried the end of your driveway? Tip: Snowplows push the snow to the right. When shoveling, place your snow on the right side of your driveway to avoid getting it pushed back on to your driveway.

Did you know that the culverts under our driveways are our responsibility? (They should be a diameter of 16” and buried half of its diameter.) While Emcon will occasionally work to clear a driveway culvert, they will only do so when its malfunction threatens our roads. As one guest noted: When Emcon spends its time clearing our driveway culverts, they are not doing the other work we need them to do. We all left aware of our responsibility concerning our driveway culverts.

Invasive species - especially gorse - are proliferating along our ditches. While a volunteer group committed to battle this encroachment was well-represented at this ASK Salt Spring session, the solution is not simple and will require a partnership between a number of organizations. Emcon ( will take the lead by contacting the provincial organization focused upon this problem and encouraging their collaboration with our islanders. It was proposed that an interagency group be convened to plan the attack - and eventual eradication - of the ever-increasing proliferation of invasive species. Watch for invasive species chipping services offered each year by the Fire department in partnership with community members. We all have a role to play: Property owners have a responsibility to eradicate invasive species on their properties as well as on their adjoining right of way.

When cars are parked along our narrow, residential roads, it is almost impossible to clear them. Neighbours need to work together to make sure their roads are accessible (both passable as well as providing enough room for a plow to turn around) If we want our roads cleared in a timely manner. When cars are illegally-parked in Ganges, the challenge is the same: these areas simply cannot be cleared. Salt Springers need to either devise a plan to address illegally-parked cars or understand that these areas simply cannot be snowplowed.

Clearing drainage ditches is an enormous job for Emcon - and one that they take very seriously. The problem is - what can they do with the often-contaminated debris cleared from our ditches? With no dump sites available - Emcon isa forced to leave the debris near the newly-cleared ditch. And, guess what happens when it rains next? Emcon does not have a solution to this dilemma. Can we, as a community, locate a wet-weather accessible dump spot for all the ditch-clearing debris?

Driveways that are too steep drain onto our roads. Follow-up will be done about permitting for driveways and ways we can assure that new driveways that were built do not add to this problem.

Can Salt Springers build their own salt/sand boxes and spread it when roads get slippery? Emcon will get back to us on this.

The question was asked: If Salt Springers continue to report road maintenance concerns, will Encom get overwhelmed and stop listening? Their strong message was: Keep the reports coming, They are listening ( (1-866-353-3136). Additionally, every week, roads-related concerns that are brought to ASK Salt Spring are referred to Emcon, and, when appropriate, referred to MoTI as well.

Isanders expressed acknowledgment to Emcon for making the significant effort to make the journey to listen. Emcon managers expressed pleasure with the respectful, constructive conversation, admittedly fearing an attack instead.

Salt Springers. . . . we do have a voice - as well as a responsibility - to effectively address our road maintenance concerns.

After Emcon managers left, the conversation shifted to the perceived over-abundance of tourists on our island. While we learned that our tourism count was down 10% last year, the perceived problem remains. Jessica told us about the newly-formed Destination Management and Marketing Organization (DMMO). While they are still getting up to speed, their mandate is to learn more about our tourist industry and, specific to Salt Spring, work to attract tourists here during our off-season. Toffino has built an entire industry around “Storm Watching” to attract tourists during inclement weather. It was suggested that Salt Spring needs such an initiative to attract visitors to our island when we most need them.

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