B.C.’s Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI) has asked the City of Port Alberni to pull the plug on a decades-old holiday tradition, and it’s leaving some locals and at least one city councillor feeling a little less jolly.
Festive lights have been installed on Johnston Road (Highway 4), a main route in Port Alberni, “forever,” according to Coun. Cindy Solda. But this year, the MOTI isn’t allowing lights to hang over and across the highway.
The ministry says the city didn’t follow through with permit requirements.
“Earlier in the fall, MOTI did an express concern with the lights going up and said it was in direct contravention with some of their policies,” said the city’s chief administrative officer, Mike Fox, at a Nov. 27 council meeting.
“So, staff did not put them up this year, and are looking for a different plan to put them up,” he said. “I don’t know if we’ll be able to put cables up in other areas of town, so it might be a next year item.”
Lights have already been installed in trees along the highway.
At the council meeting, Solda voiced locals’ disappointment about lights not being on display like in past years, adding, “They’re missing it. The public is questioning ‘where are the lights.'”
One local reached out to CHEK News, saying, “…the city has been doing it for 50-plus years, and (it’s) never been a problem. It’s a developing story, and the citizens of Port Alberni are all furious.”
Another local said the MOTI is “denying a tradition we have engaged in for decades in our small town.”
The province owns the highway, so it’s not in the city’s hands, according to Fox.
“It is a highway. So they do have policies that we are supposed to follow on their highways,” he said. “Other roads within the municipality, we look after them, and we maintain them, and we have control over them.”
Solda wishes the lights were back above the highway.
“But that’s OK. And neither will the public agree with it. They probably won’t understand the change. And can we send them a Grinch or a Scrooge little ornament to the highways (MOTI), maybe?” she joked.
But the MOTI says it supports Port Alberni in its efforts to decorate for the season. However, it notes that a permit is needed to hang lights over a provincial highway.
“The city does not require a permit for hanging lights along the sides of the road,” it said in a statement. “Permits are only required for any string of lights crossing the highway, as safety clearances for commercial vehicles need to be maintained.”
It says permit requirements have been in place for decades, and the City of Port Alberni has, in the past, worked with the ministry on this.
“Earlier this season, the city approached the ministry about requirements for stringing lights across Highway 4, and ministry provided its standard permitting information,” it said. “The city has not yet engaged in any further discussions with the ministry. Should the city apply for a permit of this nature, the ministry will be happy to process it expediently and work with the city in its efforts.”
Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions says for next year, the city could consider clustering Christmas lights on a city-owned road.
“If we can’t have them on Johnston Road, other than in the trees, we can’t have them on Johnston Road,” she said at the meeting. “But it doesn’t mean we can’t focus them elsewhere in the community and still have it be really impactful.”
Council’s Nov. 27 can be watched here.