The City of Duncan and the Municipality of North Cowichan have not made any decision at this time to close the corridor safety office, located at 490 Trans Canada Hwy., according to Duncan’s CAO Peter de Verteuil.
De Verteuil was responding to concerns being raised along the troubled highway corridor that the City of Duncan had already decided to pull its funding out of the office.
The office was set up in 2019 as part of the Safer Community Plan that both municipalities, and other stakeholders, hoped would help deal with the social issues, including drugs and homelessness, that businesses and property owners have been experiencing in the area.
The office has been used since then as a meeting place and a centralized location from which both bylaw staff and Blackbird Security Inc., which has a contract with the municipalities to provide “safety ambassadors” to conduct regular patrols along the highway corridor between Beverly Street and Boys Road, could operate.
North Cowichan and Duncan each pay approximately $23,500 annually to run the office, and de Verteuil acknowledged the municipalities will soon be discussing its viability as part of larger review of the Safer Community Plan.
“In part due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the office is not being used as much as the plan anticipated,” he said.
“City staff believe that the desired outcomes of the corridor safety office, namely daily communication and coordination, could be achieved without a physical office. Staff suggest that the Safer Community Plan partners reassess the corridor safety office and consider if reallocating all or a portion of the funds [for the office] to improved security patrols would be more impactful.”
But Will Arnold, owner of Experience Cycling that operates along the corridor, said the social issues in the area are only getting worse, and having the office and security people there at least provides some comfort for local residents and businesses.
He said he fears the decision to close the office has already been made.
“The RCMP are understaffed and bylaw officers can’t do much to deal with these issues as the pandemic of homelessness only grows around here,” Arnold said.
“We on the corridor are hurting as well as our street community. There needs to be better dialogue with our business community more than ever now, especially with the opening of [the 34 sleeping cabins for the homeless] at 610 Trunk Rd.”
North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring also said no final decisions have been made on the future of the office, and one will only be made after both municipalities have thoroughly studied the options in a month or two.
But Siebring said the office has never been a walk-in location for the community.
“It’s mainly a place for the security folks to store their bikes and use the washroom,” he said.
“But Community Policing opened a walk-in office for the public about three blocks away on Beverly Street a month ago. We’re not looking to cut back on any services along the corridor, but we are looking to see how we can deliver them more cost efficiently and we need to talk about that.”