“Cowichan Bay Road closed due to flooding.”
Valley motorists have seen the warning signs for decades but Cowichan Bay area director Lori Iannidinardo thinks it’s time to take a closer look at the source of a problem that never goes away for her constituents.
“These are residents that pay their taxes. And that road is also access for economic development: those are the trucks that go to the mill. So, why are we being ignored in this little patch? It’s never highlighted at the board. I’m always putting my voice in there, saying: ‘Remember the poor old Koksilah!’”
The problem is all down to the Koksilah River, a water course that she wishes would get the attention it deserves. But history also plays a part.
“First of all, of course, it’s just not an appropriate spot for the road. It was built on a flood plain. Second, there’s the accumulation of side channels being blocked and the flow of the flooding not able to go in the right direction. And thirdly, I thought it was surprising that the Ministry of Transportation would spend all that money to repave it three or four years ago without changing anything. They basically paved over it. The paving was very costly but there was no consideration, no checking with the community,” she said.
Any Cowichan motorist who knows anything about the area’s history will realize that Cowichan Bay Road has been in its current location a long time, simply because the historic South Cowichan Lawn Tennis Club sits right at street level.
“Historically, I imagine it was a cart path. Over the years they never changed it, and then there were houses built and people needed access and I imagine they just continued using the same route,” Iannidinardo said.
But the constant flooding and road closure is a major irritation for Area D residents so the area director has been pushing for action.
“Well, I have been trying to get the poor Koksilah River on the list for flood management because I believe it’s an essential part of all this.
“The Cowichan seems to get all the attention. The Koksilah River is kind of the one that’s always ignored. There’s a huge piece of it in behind that’s like a desert. It’s been threatened for a long time. I’ve been trying to highlight that all along with the other flood management talks that have been going on,” she said.
“Even when the diking talks were going on, I was saying: Hey, what about us, over on the Koksilah?”
The regional district is now considering a motion on flood management for the river but “it’s been held in abeyance because the Cowichan one is moving forward. I think the two of them should be together but the CVRD board has chosen to have them separated. The Koksilah comes later,” she said.
One of the reasons for the Cowichan’s high profile is that it meanders its way through many jurisdictions, passing through the Town of Lake Cowichan, the Municipality of North Cowichan and the City of Duncan besides the regional district and Cowichan Tribes land, so there are lots of different stakeholders. And Catalyst is a big player, there, too, Iannidinardo said.
“The flooding we’re talking about with the Koksilah mainly concerns a lot of Cowichan Tribes land and houses in Area D. But it’s still a multi-faceted concern; it’s not just that one strip of road even if we spent a large amount of tax dollars draining it, sweeping it, getting the gravel back off it.”
And, of course, it’s a never-ending concern in the rainy season.
“It’s ridiculous. I was away for three weeks and apparently it’s flooded twice in that time. And it’s only the beginning of November.”
Iannidinardo said she thinks her constituents deserve better.
She and other Cowichan Bay residents have worked as hard as they can on their end of the Koksilah river, noting its importance in the area community plan, protecting eel grass.
“We’ve been doing the little bit we can in order to protect it but, overall, there isn’t the interest. The Cowichan seems to get the attention. I think it’s really sad. Other people aren’t getting the annual flooding that these guys are getting on this strip of road. It’s a connection to our community,” she said.
Iannidinardo is hoping for a long-term plan for the river.
“Number one would be to make sure we get the side channels back in working order the way they were, get them unblocked. What we have learned in those flooding studies is that those side channels are like arteries that relieve the pressure. That’s what we’ve changed. And we have a road in the middle of it,” she said.
But, there also needs to be more consideration for the non-motorist using the road.
Iannidinardo said that after the most recent paving went in, she was concerned about safety for them.
“We had a person break his collarbone as he was riding to work. There was no side to the road. I know the Ministry of Transportation is about getting cars from A to B but the world is changing. It’s now about many ways of travel and they [the transportation ministry] are far from communicating with the public about that.”
That section of road has a heavily used bus shelter but “there are also a lot of pedestrians and cyclists that use that road. We really have to start looking at the broader picture. I did phone them and complained about this poor gentleman who tried to get to work on his bike. I see now that they smooth the edges whenever they grade now but we should be working together,” she said.