While the Highway 4 closure dragging on longer than most people in Port Alberni and the west coast had hoped, the announcement of its phased reopening is welcome news.
It finally provides a little certainty as those communities continue to struggle with the supply of essential goods, and tourism businesses wonder when their visitors will return.
The highway closure has been a difficult blow for those in the tourism industry. Now hearing there won’t be a full reopening until mid-July is tough news to swallow.
“It’s been really tough on our business because this is high season for us, and we depend on tourism coming from abroad,” said Bouchra Savard, an owner/operator of the Swept Away Inn.
At the inn — a 1944 tug boat converted to guest rooms and a restaurant — they’ve lost tens of thousands of dollars in bookings since the highway closure. Another 10-day closure leaves the owner with a sinking feeling.
“We have so many so many bookings that are going to be cancelled obviously because people can’t get through,” said Savard.
Another challenge has been getting essential supplies to the Alberni Valley and the west coast.
On Monday, the Alberni Co-op gas station was among those refilling after a number of stations ran dry, but those worries are starting to ease with the reassurance the highway will open, at least partially, in another 10 days.
“It’s not optimal, but we’ll work through it. We’ll do our best to keep our community full and make sure that emergency services have access to a steady supply,” said Dan Mclaren, Alberni & District Co-op’s petroleum manager.
The head of the Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce agrees that at least having a timeline is a step in the right direction, although there will no doubt be some difficult weeks ahead until a full reopening.
“Really pleased to hear that the fire is now being held, so that gives some businesses some time to arrange for alternative arrangements for things coming in, but this is definitely going to be hard on the community,” said Jolleen Dick, the chamber’s CEO.
Near Cameron Lake, it may appear Highway 4 is safe, but B.C.’s Transportation Ministry says it’s anything but.
Nearly two dozen trees up to a meter in diameter have fallen on the highway. The ministry says a lot of work needs to happen to make the highway safe. And even when the single alternating traffic is eventually allowed through, at first, it will be only for essential traffic.
“We do expect some significant delays. I don’t expect they will be as long as taking the alternate route, but I do want to warn motorists that there will be some delays as we move towards this phased reopening,” said Janelle Staite, a regional director with the ministry.