Huu-ay-aht encouraged by premier’s pledge to fix logging road

Huu-ay-aht First Nations said they are pleased their call for action following a fatal crash on the Bamfield Main road has been answered.

Premier John Horgan on Thursday promised upgrades to the gravel logging road where two University of Victoria students died in a bus crash last week.

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A bus carrying 45 University of Victoria students, two teaching assistants and the driver went off the road and slid down an embankment between Port Alberni and Bamfield last Friday. The bus was bound for the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre on Vancouver Island’s west coast.

Emma Machado, 18, and John Geerdes, 18, were pronounced dead at the scene. Three people were flown to Victoria General Hospital and more than a dozen others were injured.

RCMP and Transport Canada continue to investigate.

A meeting between Horgan and the Huu-ay-aht First Nations is set for Tuesday at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Vancouver.

Huu-ay-aht Chief Robert Dennis said his nation has long been seeking upgrades to the privately owned gravel road that is the only vehicle access between Port Alberni and Huu-ay-aht communities in Bamfield.

“It is unfortunate that it took a tragedy like we witnessed last Friday to bring about action,” Dennis said, “but we are pleased that yesterday Premier John Horgan vowed to upgrade the logging road that connects our community to Port Alberni.”

He said discussions will focus on how to make road improvements happen in a timely fashion.

Horgan has not said what changes would be made or when.

Bamfield Main is a gravel logging road owned in part by forestry companies. It is also used by residents and tourists travelling between Bamfield and Port Alberni.

The province provides annual funding, but the forestry companies are responsible for maintenance.

Western Forest Products owns the stretch of road where the crash happened.

The Huu-ay-aht say it can be dangerous due to potholes, industrial truck traffic, poor driving conditions, steep embankments, slippery conditions in the winter, and dust and limited visibility in the summer.

Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions has also raised concerns about Bamfield Main. She said her council is thrilled to hear Horgan has committed to addressing safety on the road.

“We are committed to working with the provincial government to ensure an accident like this never happens again,” she said.

B.C.’s forest safety ombudsman called on the province to upgrade the logging road in 2008, noting the importance of the route not just for logging but to communities on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

As those discussions continue, University of Victoria vice-president of finance and operations Gayle Gorrill confirmed another student trip to the Bamfield centre will go ahead next month.

Gorrill said the centre is “a world-class teaching and research facility that provides our students with incredible opportunities to learn and study,” and there are no plans to cancel the field trip in late October.

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