An advocate for Cuthbert Holmes Park disagrees with council’s decision to approve a controversial highway berm part and parcel of the McKenzie Interchange Project that will encroach into sections of the park.
“I am extremely disappointed this morning,” said Julian Anderson, lead steward for the Friends of Cuthbert Holmes Park, who had previously expressed concerns about the potential environmental impact of the berm. He reiterated those concerns.
“We are talking about the stewardship of a very important public park and a salmon-bearing river in an urban area,” he said. “We are extremely fortunate to have it, but I fear we’re taking it for granted. The [proposed] cloverleaf took a large part out of the park at one end, and now they are going ahead with a risky proposal at the other end. [Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure] has essentially said ‘trust us, we’re professionals’ but these same professionals failed in their commitment to keep a 30 metre buffer between the project and the Colquitz River.”
Anderson is especially frustrated with council’s decision to choose what he considered the worst of the available options. “Why they didn’t choose the option with increased setback is astounding,” he said.
Staff presented council with two options: approve the berm with a 30-metre buffer from Colquitz River, or approve the berm with a 35-metre buffer from Colquitz River. Council however could have also denied the berm as the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MoTI) has the option of building a berm within its right-of-way along the highway.
Council vote 5-3 in favour of the first option. “It seems there is enough professional support with Option #1,” said Coun. Susan Brice. “We started down this path in good faith, negotiating, and I think we have come to a place that is supportable.”
Mayor Richard Atwell agreed. “With some faith, this is easy for me to support,” he said. “But I have some concerns,” he said in asking all participating parties to monitor the project and report concerns to maintain public trust.
During discussion, Atwell wondered out loud who would be responsible in case of damage to the park in light of complex ownership. Saanich leases the land on which the ministry plans to build the berm from the provincial government.
Chief administrator Paul Thorkelsson said all parties would do their best to pursue best practices. This said, nobody could offer any guarantees, he said.
So why did council go for the 30-metre buffer instead of the large buffer? “If it [the buffer]is good enough for our citizens [as per policy], I fail to understand why it wouldn’t be good enough for Saanich,” said Coun. Karen Harper.
Council’s decision to approve the berm came after councillors had grilled MoTI representatives during a presentation earlier this month about the berm’s height and potential impact on Colquitz River, a salmon-bearing river running through the park.
“If we have no intention with moving forward, then we shouldn’t have asked the questions that we did,” said Harper. “We have asked those questions, and this [berm] is an opportunity for Saanich to create some sort of vision for the entrance of
Couns. Colin Plant, Judy Brownoff and Dean Murdock disagreed.
“At the end of the day, for me, I’m not going to support because it is too big,” said Plant. “I’m not comfortable giving up parkland for a berm,” he said. “While the berm would of course be somewhat like a park, on that principle, I’m not willing to support it.”
Plant acknowledged efforts by the ministry to mitigate risks, but also suggested those efforts might be insufficient in alluding to past controversies around the $85-million McKenzie Interchange Project. “I think they have done the best they can all along, and we have seen unfortunately some circumstances that haven’t played out nicely,” he said.
Plant for his part would have preferred the ministry building within its own right-of-way. “So I’m hoping that this does not pass, and we send a message to the ministry, ‘Best wishes, building the best possible within the right-of-the-way…and to make it the best possible outcome.”
The berm as presented Monday will enroach into Cuthbert Holmes Park where the Trans-Canada Highway intersects with Admirals Road and where the Trans-Canada Highway intersects with Tillicum Road, with the encroachment towards Tillicum Road larger than towards Admirals Road. The berm — some 500 metres long — would be 11 metres high towards Tillicum Road and four metres towards Admirals Road.
These changes to the original design stem from the ministry’s decision to change the slope of the berm, making it less steep in certain areas.
Anderson acknowledged that council’s decision was not enviable. “At a minimum, [council] should have taken those concessions to add protection for the Colquitz. I cannot fathom why they wouldn’t have.”