The Quesnel Board of Education and School District 28 have pledged to continue to put pressure on the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI) to come up with a solution to the West Fraser Road washout, which is affecting more than 200 residents of Buckridge and ?Esdilagh (Alexandria) First Nation.
Several stretches of West Fraser Road at and near the Narcosli Bridge washed out in April and May 2018, due to high water levels from the spring freshet. Narcosli Creek eroded five sections of the road approximately 17 kilometres south of Quesnel. The road has been closed since then, with all residents past the washout on detour via a forest service road, Garner Road.
At a Nov. 7 Board of Education meeting, secretary-treasurer Bettina Ketcham shared with school trustees a letter they’d recently received from the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Claire Trevena.
Minister Trevena called West Fraser Road a “vital link for the community,” and said “restoring regular service along the road is a ministry priority.”
“I recognize the impacts of the detour on students and families of School District 28,” she wrote.
The Minister said in the letter that ministry staff would be re-engaging with community members in early 2019. Ketcham indicated Ministry representatives would be doing so as early as January.
Superintendent of schools Sue-Ellen Miller noted that the letter still does not commit to a timeline for the replacement of West Fraser Road.
“The concern still is the timeline. I think we need to continue to press on that. … Because we believe that any further delay is really difficult for students riding that bus for that long period of time, and I think the more conversations, the more pressure we can apply, will support some kind of a decision on the replacement of that road,” she said.
In July, MOTI said construction on the road would not begin until 2020, due to scientific assessments that must be carried out, and the design process.
Board of Education chair Gloria Jackson put forward that the School District should make a plan to check back in with the community ahead of the January meeting with Ministry staff.
“We did tell the community we would meet with the MLA and Emcon and the Ministry again once we had our first snowfall, so we should set something up ahead of January,” she commented during the discussion.
Emcon Services is responsible for maintaining Garner Road, and much concern has been raised over winter driving conditions on the gravel forest service route.
Around 24 students ride the bus from the community past the washout. The bus leaves Marguerite Ferry Road at 6:20 a.m. Due to the road closure, some children are on the bus 30 minutes longer than when the road was open.
Trustee Wendy Clement commented during discussion at Wednesday’s meeting that she had heard anecdotally that some locals were considering not enrolling their children in Kindergarten and Grade 1 due to the long bus ride they would face each day.
The Trustees as well as School District staff expressed much concern for the students travelling to and from Quesnel on the school bus.
“Political pressure continues,” commented Superintendent Miller.