There was a party atmosphere in Port Alberni Saturday, as Highway 4 re-opened to single lane traffic, after nearly three weeks of closure.
“It’s so great to be in such a great, warm town. Even with the adversities we face, the town comes together,” said Lance Lapointe, as the country singer and Port Alberni resident performed at ‘Port Day’ in Port Alberni.
Residents of the city were relieved that the highway had finally reopened, making it easier to come and go.
“It’s been really tough, so hoping that they’ve opened it up now, if we can get it fully opened would make a big difference to us,” said Gwen Lowe, manager of the Port Alberni Farmers Market.
But no one is breathing a full sigh of relief yet, after the unexpected start and quick stop to the re-opening on Friday. When just hours into traffic flowing, high winds threatened to knock down the cranes hanging these huge nets to stop debris falling from the Cameron Bluffs wildfire, and Highway 4 remained closed until Saturday morning.
“You don’t know that it’s going to stay open. Soon as the wind comes up they shut it down again and as soon as some rocks fall or some trees fall they’ll shut it down again,” said Port Alberni resident Bob Welsh.
“I don’t want to go to Nanaimo and get stuck over there.”
The threat of further closures on the vulnerable stretch of Highway 4 is top of mind with Port Alberni businesses that rely on freight.
“That’s a pretty fragile situation in June in British Columbia when it’s windy, the road is shut and that’s okay?” said Joe Spears, terminals manager for San Group.
So San Group, which operates lumber mills in Port Alberni, is now bringing in barges by water to feed the city’s industry, and installing a barge ramp at the community’s deep sea port, to ensure that businesses have a way in and our for product going forward.
“If highway closures happen again we can move goods en masse here should we have the opportunity or should we have the need. That could be fuel, groceries,” said Mike Carter, vice-president of operations for the Port Alberni Port Authority.
The closure of the highway not only had a big impact on residents, but businesses as well.
“Industry is coming together because we’re talking at least 3,000 jobs, that doesn’t include all of the value added in Tofino, all of that,” said Pears.
The highway closed June 6, due to the Cameron Bluff wildfire burning above it that is now considered under control at 230 hectares. The Ministry of Transportation plans to have both lanes of the highway re-opened by mid July.