North Cowichan councillors finally took the next step in approving a controversial road extension into the Stoney Hill area, by passing several essential bylaws at their Aug. 20 meeting.
Public meetings on the subject have drawn large crowds with vociferous supporters both backing and opposing the call for an upgrade of the road.
Those in favour are concerned about emergency crews being able to get in to the area, while those opposed are worried that an upgrade will pave the way for development.
There are still more hurdles to clear, however, according to Mayor Jon Lefebure. "We’re just waiting for the environmental and archaeological assessments to be done. The archaeological assessment is still ongoing but we feel we have enough information to take this next step," he said.
Asked if Cowichan Tribes, who have expressed significant concern about the road, were on side with that, Lefebure said, "they are not actually approving our archaeological assessment in any way. It’s a different jurisdiction. A member of Tribes has been involved in the archaeological assessment but they are not producing the report. That’s being done by a separate company."
What is also unclear right now is when work on the project might start. The borrowing bylaw must be completed, then the project must be put out to tender.
That will be key, he said. "Until we have the tenders in we don’t know exactly what it’s going to cost. We have our estimated budget but without a final budget we’re not actually sure that it can go ahead," he said, admitting that quite a few things are hinging on whether work can fit within those bookends.
"There will hopefully be a result on the tender that’s within budget because the municipality has committed $500,000 and the local service area has committed $2 million. We do have some finite numbers out there and if it came in way higher than those two numbers added together, we’d have an issue," he said, adding that he hoped that decision could be made not long after the end of September.
Meanwhile, Tracy Fleming, representing Cowichan Tribes, has told council again that Cowichan Tribes would not oppose a road through Maple Bay peninsula if there were no changes to the foreshore in Sansum Narrows that would allow the addition of docks.
Fleming also asked that Cowichan Tribes be given opportunity to review and comment on the archaeological impact assessment; that there be some flexibility on the road alignment through Bird’s Eye Cove Farm so as not to interfere with the archaeological sites; and that construction be monitored by a Cowichan Tribes member familiar with those sites.
North Cowichan CAO Dave Devana told council he would report back on the items raised by Fleming.
"On the whole, I’m glad they’ve come to a resolution," said Denny Wagg, one of many concerned Cowichan Valley residents who has spoken out at public meetings about the road extension and upgrading. "It’s been an issue for many, many years. I’m glad the road will be improved. It’s a beautiful property down there. It’s just a stunning landscape.
"What I am not in favour of is any more development down there. There are a limited amount of homes down there already. I’d hate to see it being turned into a subdivision," he said.
That is one of the challenges of offering access, he said.
"I went in there this spring on a tour. Going down a road we met a really steep section that in snowy or bad weather would be a real challenge for an ambulance or fire trucks. The improvement of the road is necessary. I was initially quite concerned about that going through sensitive areas but I’m sure they will be very careful in avoiding any area that’s important from a nature point of view," Wagg said.