Suspended rock curtains to protect travellers when Highway 4 reopens


It’s unlike anything ever tried on this scale in this type of situation.

Three sections of huge hanging rock barriers will allow one lane of alternating traffic to reopen on Highway 4 this weekend.

“We’re installing a mixture of things, including a rock curtain that’s being suspended in three different areas,” said Janelle Staite, deputy director for the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure South Coast Region.

“So it’s suspended by cranes, and it goes a fair ways up the slope. It’s intended to catch any rocks that are coming down the slope.”

READ MORE: Cameron Bluffs no longer wildfire of note; highway reopening on schedule

There will also be roadside barriers with similar fencing and retaining walls made from large lock blocks.

It should all be in place this weekend, but the exact day and time to open the road still aren’t known.

“We’re keeping a close eye on it, and as soon as we’re in a position to let the public know, we will, but I don’t suspect there’s going to be lots of notice because realistically, as soon as we’re ready to open we will,” Staite added.

“We don’t want to hold back on reopening, but we do want to make sure it’s safe when we do reopen.”

Saturday will mark three weeks since the Cameron Bluffs fire started and two and a half weeks since the highway was closed.

The sooner it reopens, the better for businesses on both sides of the closure but no more so than in Ucluelet and Tofino where tourism has plummeted.

However, at Hotel Zed in Tofino, reservations coming in today are up 50 per cent, and this weekend all 68 rooms are almost sold out.

“People, with this announcement, are excited. Everyone’s just revving to come out and visit Tofino,” said Nikisa Banks, the hotel’s marketing director.

In Port Alberni, there are calls for financial relief for lost business or costs associated with using the Cowichan detour.

“Relief for commercial vehicles that did take the road and are experiencing damage to their vehicles and so forth, and so there have been added expenses, and we are advocating to make sure businesses can be relieved of some of these costs of doing business during this closure,” said Jolleen Dick, CEO of the Alberni Chamber of Commerce.

Back at Cameron Lake, a smouldering fire ignited just above the highway workers Tuesday, and it might happen again even after the highway reopens.

“We understand from BC Wildfire Service that essentially the fuel on the slope has been burned, but we still know there is some heat and smouldering inside some of the trees, so that might result in some occasional smoke and flames,” said Staite.

“But again, our understanding is that that’s nothing to be concerned about, and again there’s constant monitoring that’s happening out there.”

Staite adds if the highway needs to be shut down again for public safety, it will be.

Longer term, the mountain conditions will be monitored over the next two weeks or longer before a decision is made to open both lanes of traffic.

Dean Stoltz

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