Remote B.C., community worried about future of access road

Remote B.C., community worried about future of access road

Penny, B.C., residents want to see the province take full responsibility for maintaining its only access road. 

Two years ago, the small community of Penny was promised provincial funding and oversight for maintenance on the community's only access road, a 13-kilometre homemade, non-status road that connects Penny to other nearby communities.

The province asked the contractor that was responsible for maintenance in Penny proper to look after that road and provided them with ministry gravel to ensure the road stayed in useable condition. At the time, the promise was for a two year commitment. As that period comes to an end, it's uncertain whether or not the road will continue to be plowed and repaired.

"The current maintenance contract concludes this year, and it is expected that the next successful maintenance proponent will be required to maintain the roads within Penny as part of the contract," the B.C. Ministry of Transportation told CBC in an email.

But it isn't the roads within Penny that are of concern, it's that access road that the community's seven residents, emergency services and CN Rail and government workers use to get into the area.

The ministry said that once the new contractor is identified, it will be able to better identify the contractor's intended operations and how it may affect the non-status road.

'Nobody was doing anything'

Before the provincial government agreed to have its contractor maintain the road, Gobbi's husband did most of the maintenance at his own cost.

"We just couldn't afford it," Penny resident Rhoda Gobbi told Radio West host Sarah Penton.

A petition asking for help from the province was launched, and the community and the Ministry of Transportation came to the agreement to have a contractor take care of it.

"Basic maintenance and minor repairs have been completed by the maintenance contractor on the non-status road to the Penny site to ensure that the road conditions remained consistent with the condition it was in prior to May 2017," the Ministry of Transportation said.

However, Gobbi said the amount of work that's actually been done on the road since the agreement began has been limited.

"We started having trouble on the road, because nobody was doing anything," she said. "The road was falling apart."

Now, the community is calling on the government to take over the maintenance of the road entirely. 

"We need help keeping and getting the government to take over this access to Penny," she said.

If the government doesn't take responsibility for the state of the road, Gobbi said the residents will picket. 

"We'll have to cut off a road and show them how many people use it, because it's used by everybody."