Fix in the works but who will pay for upgrades to deadly Vancouver Island logging road

A notoriously treacherous Vancouver Island road where two university students died in a roll-over accident this fall is finally getting the attention it deserves, according to the leader of a small First Nation community near Bamfield, B.C.

Chief Coun. Robert Dennis of the Huu-ay-aht First Nations said Premier John Horgan has lived up to a promise he made in September by travelling to the town to see the logging road and discuss future safety upgrades, though it is still unclear who will pay for them.

"This meeting proved to be a really honest effort to forming a working reconciliation action group, and the premier was really committed to that," said Dennis.

Emma Machado and John Geerdes, both 18, died Sept. 13, 2019, when the bus they were travelling in along a gravel logging road flipped down an embankment late at night.

The UVic students were on an annual weekend field trip to the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre, which is about 200 kilometres southeast of Tofino by car.

Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press

Dennis said before the September incident, eight community members had already died in crashes related to unsafe traveling conditions on the unpaved, pot-hole riddled road.

He said Horgan and others, including Western Forest Products, held a meeting recently and together they have the tools to make significant upgrades.

"The road ownership issue is another [issue] we have to iron out and we were very fortunate yesterday to have all of the stakeholders at the meeting," said Dennis.

Dennis says the premier directed the representatives from the Transportation Ministry at the meeting to form an action group with the First Nation to create a plan to improve the road.

Submitted by Jose Fajardo/Submitted by Sam Machado

Cheaper chip-seal

"Paving the road has definitely been out of the question ... [due to cost]. So, we took a different track and said, OK, how about if we chip-seal the road."

Chip-sealing is a pavement surface treatment that combines one or more layers of asphalt with fine aggregate. It is often used on rural roads that have less traffic and is seen as a cheaper alternative to asphalt concrete.

"The premier certainly repeated quite a few times and I had the opportunity of meeting Carole James too and their message has been that they don't have any money in this year's budget." 

But Dennis said he and the community are willing to work with the province to get the road chip-sealed, even if that means the First Nation pitches in some funds.

"We're convinced that that this approach will work."

Bamfield is a community of approximately 170 and is surrounded by Crown and reserve land and portions of the Pacific Rim National Park on Vancouver Island's Barkley Sound. 

Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press