BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Cherryville ignored

Despite a lot of rhetoric about communicating with the public, the provincial government is operating in isolation.

Cherryville residents were shocked to recently discover that 200 metres of the Sugar Lake Campsite Road, also known as the lower road, were ripped out between two campgrounds.

“The removal of this access was done without comment from the local community, the regional district, the Okanagan Indian Band or the (forestry) licensees that operate in the upper Shuswap River,” said Hank Cameron, an active voice for environmental and water issues.

Eugene Foisy, a lifelong resident and regional district director, is demanding answers.

“We’re trying to get to the bottom of this,” he said.

Can you imagine what would happen if a Vernon road was permanently shut down without even a peep to residents? There would be protests in the street and letters to the editor flowing in.

But apparently there was no thought given to the negative impact such a move would create for those people who call Cherryville home.

“It is an important local lake access that people use for swimming or picnics without having to have the bush radio required to travel on the industrial Sugar Main haul road,” said  Cameron of family vehicles trying to avoid face-to-face encounters with much larger logging trucks.

There were also practical reasons for the lower road.

“This is an alternate access in case of the upper road being affected by fire, washout or windfall (fallen trees),” said Cameron, who is also quick to point out that the report into B.C.’s 2003 firestorms called for secondary routes to ensure people can be evacuated in a disaster.

The decision to decommission the road came after high lake levels caused damage earlier this year.

“Ministry staff assessed the situation and decided that closing this short section of the road was a more cost-effective solution than the alternative, which would require spending an estimated $225,000 to install a retaining wall and rebuild this part of the road,” stated a spokesperson for the Ministry of Forests.

Cherryville has been hit hard by the economic downturn and residents there understand financial challenges better than many people. They appreciate the concept of fiscal prudence.

However, it’s uncertain whether closing down a frequently used  road is cost-effective. There are also some doubts about the projected $225,000 price tag.

“The road was stable having been built more than 80 years ago. Mostly it just needed grading,” said Cameron.

Ultimately, the Ministry of Forests’ decision may have been justified given the project cost, the potentially poor condition of the road and the availability of an alternate route into the area.

However, where the ministry made a mistake was thinking it could act alone.

Bureaucrats in Victoria are not impacted by their decisions and have no sense of a community’s specific needs and interests.

Before anything was done, the first priority should have been consulting with the residents of Cherryville.

---Richard Rolke is the senior reporter for The Morning Star

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