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On the anniversary of Hwy. 4 closure, calls continue for emergency alternative route

Highway 4 on Vancouver Island was closed near Port Alberni for weeks due to the Cameron Bluffs wildfire. (B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure) Highway 4 on Vancouver Island was closed near Port Alberni for weeks due to the Cameron Bluffs wildfire. (B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure)

On Thursday, traffic was flowing on Highway 4 around Cameron Lake heading into Port Alberni. One year ago, that wasn’t the case.

On June 3, 2023, a massive human-caused wildfire tore through Cameron Lake Bluffs. Crews worked tirelessly to control the blaze. Three days later, the province officially closed Highway 4 due to safety concerns above the major artery connecting the west coast to the mid-island.

“There was significant impacts on our community and I think we’re going to see the effects of that long-term,” said Sharie Minions, the mayor of Port Alberni.

Minions says lessons have been learned and the biggest takeaway was the need for collaboration.

“When the emergency first happened I think we were really working one-on-one in silos,” said the mayor. “As we started to collaborate more frequently and more effectively, we really saw improvements to all of the issues we trying to take on collectively.”

Those issues were immense. The west coast’s only connection to the rest of Vancouver Island was through a four-hour detour to Lake Cowichan.

Supplies like fuel and groceries had a hard time getting through. Tourism was crippled and businesses suffered.

“It was a phenomenal cost not only to ourselves but others,” said Russell Dyson, the owner of Coleman Meadows Farm.

Dyson owns a water buffalo farm in the Alberni Valley and his son owns a dairy farm. He says when the highway was closed, the combined losses climbed into the tens of thousands of dollars.

“Cows must be milked every single day, twice a day,” said Dyson.

That milk needs to be processed in two locations outside of the Alberni Valley, in Victoria and the Comox Valley.

On the first anniversary of the closure of Highway 4, Dyson says it’s time for the province to build an alternative route around Cameron Lake.

“Let’s get something that at the very least that is a sound alternative in an emergency basis,” said the farmer.

“I think the Horn Lake connector, from our communities’ perspective, is certainly the preference for that type of route,” said Minions.

That connector currently sits on lands controlled by Mosiac Forest Management.

The province says that in previous years, the Horne Lake connector was studied as an alternative route but was rejected as a viable solution for general traffic.

It says it is investing in safety upgrades to that stretch of Highway 4 to make sure it will remain open. The province says it is open to speaking with local governments to create a safe and reliable detour route to keep goods and services moving in the case of another emergency.

“The times of study and talking about it are done,” said Dyson.

During the closure the City of Port Alberni did fly some supplies into the community. It also explored the option of barging goods in, which didn’t work at the time as there were no docks that could facilitate the massive floats.

“What we have now is an awareness of what barge locations exist and how we could activate them in an emergency situation should we need that,” said Minions.

One year on and lessons have been learned.

Residents in the Alberni Valley say now is the time for the province to step-up and build a viable alternative route, in and out of valley, that could be used on an emergency basis. Top Stories

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