Forest safety ombudsman warned province about Bamfield road in 2008 report

B.C.'s forest safety ombudsman warned the provincial government 11 years ago about the dangers of the road to Bamfield, where a bus crash on Friday claimed the lives of two University of Victoria students.

The route between Port Alberni, B.C., and the community on Vancouver Island's west coast was highlighted in a 2008 report by Roger Harris on the status of the province's 400,000 kilometres of gravel logging roads.

It quoted a community member from a 2007 town hall, who said: "It scares me, the thought of those school and tour buses on the road each day."

Harris, who still holds the position today, warned the provincial government in his report that numerous communities in B.C., including Bamfield, are only accessible by old logging roads that are not adequately maintained. 

"You can argue that Bamfield is not a logging town anymore, it's an entirely different community," Harris told The Early Edition Tuesday in a phone interview.

Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press

At the 2007 town hall, the community member commented that more than 3,500 students travel the road every year to participate in programs at the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre.

Harris included that comment in his report, which recommended creating a new road designation for old logging roads that serve as the only access to many remote and First Nation communities and whose maintenance is subject to the "boom and bust of resources."

"Because we have these resource roads that have become quasi-highways, we needed a whole new designation of road in the province," Harris said Tuesday.

According to Harris, there are communities in every region of the province that use roads that were built for logging and "now serve the much greater good and purpose."

"It's a problem that is, I think, bigger than people want to admit," he said.

Harris's report was endorsed by the B.C. Forest Practices Board, the independent watchdog for forestry practices in the province.

Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press

Chief Councillor Robert Dennis with the Huu-ay-aht First Nations was one of the first to come across the crash site on Friday, where John Geerdes and Emma Machado, both 18, were killed when the bus rolled over.

Several others were injured in the crash, which is the latest of many to have happened on the road.

"We in Bamfield have known for quite sometime that the safety issue on that road is one of our prime concerns," said Dennis. 

"I've been knocking on every Liberal government, every NDP government, to get our road fixed," Dennis told CBC.

To hear the complete interview with Roger Harris on The Early Edition, click on the audio link below: