Outcry gets new webcam for Hill 60

The Hill 60 highway webcam — a winter lifeline for Highway 18 drivers — is coming back.

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 Sunday, just before heading out to Honeymoon Bay’s Easter egg hunt.

The whole saga began just before Christmas when Highway 18 motorists and the Cowichan Valley Citizen discovered that the webcam had been quietly removed and was being relocated to Mesachie Lake.

Drivers fired off a fusillade of furious comments on Facebook and in letters to editors, Mainroad Contracting and the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure and got 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 Sunday.

“Essentially the long and the short of it is, when the original webcam equipment went out and your story and the letters to the editors 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 because it can be raining in Duncan and snowing on Hill 60. It’s a safety issue for drivers,” he said.

“Well they gave me the explanation that it wasn’t their webcam equipment, it was Mainroad’s, and that the company could do what it wanted. But I pressed and said people were upset.”

Asked about the idea that the Ministry was somehow improving service to people at Cowichan Lake by moving the webcam to Mesachie Lake, Morrison said he had discovered a possible reason.

“There is a semi-plausible explanation to that if you are prepared to buy it. They are located in Duncan and if they need to know what the weather conditions are on Hill 60 they just send a car up there. But, if they want to know what the weather conditions are doing in Lake Cowichan, it’s a little farther for them to go. I didn’t buy it. I told them there were a lot of users contacting me and I myself was ready to go to the papers.”

It took time to get results but Morrison said Sunday that he received official confirmation last week of the change in plan.

“They have already started work up at the site to make sure they’ve got the infrastructure there. And, from what I understand, they are putting a brand new solar-powered webcam there. It will be transmitted by cellular technology but they are planning on putting boosters and the like 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.

“It will go along with the province-wide system,” he said. “This is really good news. I think they thought they might be able to weather the storm and people would get used to the Mesachie site but, armed with the passion that people have about how important that was to their driving safety, I went there with a full head of steam and conviction that pulling the old equipment was a mistake and the community would settle for nothing less than a new webcam on that site,” Morrison 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.”

Arguments that there is a webcam at Skutz Falls do not address the situation higher up, he said.

The replacement webcam will be installed this spring and summer and will be functional by next year.

“Right now, they’ve gone up there and done the cell signal testing. They are assessing what the technical requirements are and determining exactly which camera and how the solar system will connect up and all that and what equipment goes up there. I would imagine we’ll see further work in the upcoming weeks,” Morrison said.