Power of people saves Cowichan web camera

The problem technically began at the end of 2013 but it came to a head a few weeks later and by mid 2014, it was solved. The removal of the webcam located on Hill 60 on Highway 18 had locals up in arms. Many motorists, discovered the following message when trying to find out from Drive BC what the snow situation was on Hill 60 last December: "The Cowichan HighwayCam on Hwy 18 is currently unavailable. The webcam is in the process of being moved to another location in the area.

Stay tuned!" What? Was the least of the questions being asked by residents from both ends of the Lake Cowichan highway, especially when it was rumoured that the new home being considered for the camera was the turnoff at Mesachie Lake to the road to Port Renfrew. Asked for answers, Lisanne Bowness, senior public affairs officer for the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, said, "Mainroad South Island Contracting owns and maintains the Highway 18 webcam, which had been running on solar power and a weak cellular signal since it was installed nine years ago, causing reliability issues.

"The camera at this site was older technology and Mainroad had identified it for upgrading. Since there is a second HighwayCam nearby, at Skutz Falls, Mainroad, in consultation with the Ministry, determined the webcam would be more useful at the South Shore Road/Pacific Marine Road intersection, which connects Lake Cowichan to Port Renfrew as part of the Pacific Marine Circle Route," she said. That didn’t satisfy Highway 18 drivers, however, many of whom pointed out that the climate at the top of Hill 60 is far different from that at Skutz Falls. However, good news was on the way. The Hill 60 highway webcam – acknowledged as a winter lifeline for Highway 18 drivers – would be back. The Cowichan Valley Regional District’s Area F director Ian Morrison announced the news over the Easter weekend.

"We’re getting a brand new Drive BC webcam up there in the next few months," he said April 20, just before heading out to Honeymoon Bay’s Easter egg hunt. Along with firing off a fusillade of furious comments on Facebook and in letters to editors, Mainroad Contracting and the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, Highway 18 drivers had been on the phone to Morrison. His far-flung area includes the site of both the Hill 60 and the Mesachie Lake webcams and he got an earful, he said.

"Essentially when the original webcam equipment went out and your story…came out I contacted my contacts at MoTI and began discussions with them.

"I set about explaining to them the importance of that site and that quite often if there’s going to be a weather change you’ll first notice it there," he said. He was thrilled with the success of his plea.

"They have already started work up at the site. A brand new solar-powered webcam [will go] there. I even was pushing to get some lighting put in there, too, to enhance it to 24-hour service since there is a Hydro line that goes right by the site but apparently it would be extremely expensive to do a power drop from that line," he said. However, Morrison is happy about any camera there.

"This is really good news," he said. Morrison agreed that there is significant reason for concern as there are school buses that travel that route, not to mention large numbers of people going to and from work or the Cowichan District Hospital.

"I think I was able to convey the level of outrage that people felt." By mid-June, he was showing off the new operational Drive BC webcam as a victory demonstrating the power of the people in keeping a weather eye at the top of the hill between Duncan and Cowichan Lake. Morrison was clearly delighted to announce that the replacement camera was up and running.

"I received an email from [transportation] ministry officials telling me that the switch had been flipped and it was live," he said. Looking at the new camera, Morrison noted, "The solar panels are a little bigger than the other ones. Everyone says the images are fantastic. Now, we just need to get some Hydro here so we can get a light to see conditions at night."