‘Very disappointed’: Highway 4 closure near Port Alberni leading to tough decisions

'Very disappointed': Highway 4 closure near Port Alberni leading to tough decisions
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The Highway 4 shutdown is impacting thousands of people daily — workers commuting to and from Port Alberni, tourists and those relying on deliveries to the community.

On Monday, two transport trucks carried dozens of concrete dividers to the closed section of the Vancouver Island highway.

It’s a sign B.C.’s Transportation Ministry is working toward a plan to reopen the stretch of road. Yet, for many, the closure has led to tough decisions.

“We’re very disappointed,” said Kathleen Kuhnert, North Island College’s vice president of Students and Community Engagement.

At the college, they’ve postponed their Port Alberni graduation ceremonies for 60 students. The events set for Tuesday night likely would’ve been attended by hundreds of family members from across B.C.

“We know that resources are hampered right now by the road closures so we really want to be respectful of that and celebrate when the time is right,” said Kuhnert.

READ ALSO: Crews continue to battle Cameron Bluffs wildfire on day 10

Today, the second convoy of trucks carrying essential supplies such as gas arrived to refill gas stations running dry.

But for some industries, the alternate route simply doesn’t cut it.

The San Group is trying to use its deep sea port to address the needs of several businesses in the community, including the Catalyst Mill.

“The third thing we’re doing is trying to bring the food supply back to Port Alberni, working with a couple of the companies together so we can move the food and the chemicals for the Port Alberni mill and the petrochemicals and whatever we require in that area,” said Kamal Sanghera, San Group’s CEO.

At the Qualicum Beach Airport, Iskwew Air has been making three round trips to Port Alberni since the highway closure.

“Huge demand, and so we’re working together and getting people in and out multiple times a day with charter services,” said Kiana Hill, the team lead at Iskwew Air.

Among those flying today were David and Brenda Oscienny, who are going to watch Canada’s Mens soccer team compete internationally in Las Vegas and wanted a quick way out of Port Alberni.

“We phoned BC Air and they were super accommodating and we just thought it was the two of us, and then there was a third person as well,” said Oscienny.

Island Health has been using some of the flights as many of its staff at Port Alberni’s hospital and the other west coast communites live outside the Alberni Valley.

“It’s really turning into quite a point of pride for us. We’ve been able to sustain all our services, and we’ve had no significant service disruptions at all,” said Max Jhaszczok, director of Island Health’s Emergency Operations Centre during the wildfire and highway closure.

Island Health says its workers have stepped up with some staying in Port Alberni for days at a time while others have volunteered to work in the city despite not usually working there.

Kendall HansonKendall Hanson

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