Neighbours have renewed their concerns about a potential pedestrian bridge over Somenos Creek linking York Road and the Timbercrest subdivision northeast of Duncan.
After seeing it as a proposed project in North Cowichan’s five-year plan (slated for 2019) at a recent open house, neighbours are now worried about the impact it would have on the already-problematic drug and homelessness situation facing the Cowichan Valley’s core.
Despite agreeing with the convenience and general idea of better access, Erin Whiteford has been opposed to this particular project for several years, instead favouring a wider Lakes Road bridge.
“As soon as I had heard about the foot bridge I have been opposed,” she said. “Absolutely, the foot bridge would be a great addition to the trail and dike system, but not without fixing the social issues that plague that area first.”
Discarded used needles and fires from homeless camps are among the issues plaguing the marsh recently.
“I had felt that it gave thieves an easy access and escape route into and out of the neighborhood. Now with the social issues that are happening in and around McDonald’s and the dike area, I have felt more strongly that we needed to halt this project,” she said. “I would love the money to be spent on the social services to help the people in these dire situations.”
Whiteford said she will be petitioning North Cowichan to remove the project from its to-do list until some of those issues are resolved.
Those concerns differ now from those of opponent Greg Gerbis who spoke up back in 2016 about a bridge being built right through the centre of the marsh.
Gerbis, who has lived adjacent to the marsh for almost 20 years, said the wetland has faced many challenges over the years due to development encroaching on its borders, but the most “egregious assault” yet is the plan for a pedestrian bridge right through its centre.
He was even dismayed that the Somenos Marsh Wildlife Society seemed to be on board with the plan.
“At one time they promoted this,” North Cowichan councillor Tom Walker said on Tuesday. “At one time the Marsh Society as far as I know, they wanted the walking bridge. Then I guess they got thinking about it and things change and now I understand they are not in favour of it.”
They had come under fire last March for supporting the plan, though at that time society president Paul Fletcher did note “The society won’t support the project if it’s determined that it would be destructive to the marsh.”
The society’s position remains unclear.
On Tuesday Fletcher declined to comment further on the issue and said he wouldn’t be available to do so for some time.
“The bridge is something like two or three years down the road,” he said. “We’re just going to sit where we are for now.”
Walker said the project is still in the five-year-plan and will remain there unless council opts to remove it. Based on the input he’s received from community members, he knows the issue will get a long, hard look.
“I live in that neighbourhood and I can remember coming home one afternoon and there was a bit of a delegation at the front of my driveway,” he recalled. “And I said then it would not happen until there was a good discussion with the neighbourhood and with the public and I committed to that a year ago and I committed to that some two or three months ago again.”
Walker added that he’s had “exactly two” citizens tell him they were in favour of the project.
“One a couple months ago would love to walk if [the needle situation] changed,” he said, and another was a school teacher who thinks it would benefit children trying to get to their classes.
—With a file from Robert Barron