The City of Courtenay may recommend a third bridge as part of its 2018 transportation master plan, but Project Watershed will oppose any crossing of the Courtenay River south of 17th Street
A battle is brewing over how to improve the flow of traffic through Courtenay and across the Courtenay River without destroying established businesses and key portions of the K’omoks estuary.
The fight could pit the city against Project Watershed, K’omoks First Nations, business owners at the Courtenay Airpark and others over a proposed third crossing at 21st St., which would close the airpark, destroy portions of the estuary and have devastating effects on the Kus-kus-sum restoration.
The city is developing a much-needed transportation master plan that will guide City Councils over the next 20 years on where to invest in new infrastructure and how to meet the transportation needs of a growing population.
The plan is long overdue, and the failure of the city to develop such a plan in the past has limited the city’s options today to meet future transportation requirements.
Mayor Larry Jangula and some council members have downplayed a consultant’s report that recommends the 21st St. crossing as simply “a concept.” But Project Watershed and airpark business owners worry that a ho-hum attitude could result in the “concept” being enshrined in the master plan.
In a strong letter to the mayor and council, Project Watershed has said it will oppose any third crossing of the Courtenay River south of 17th St.
“This route, which would go through wetlands, across agricultural lands and creeks in order to hook up with Comox Road and then eventually Macdonald Road, is ill advised in the extreme,” wrote Project Watershed Chair Paul Horgen.
“The permanent damage that would be done to sensitive ecological areas, including Hollyhock Marsh, Glen Urquhart and Mallard Creeks, as well as Dike Slough by such a project, is unacceptable. This additional crossing would also affect those that enjoy the recreational opportunities afforded by the Courtenay Airpark Lagoon trails, Horgen said in his letter.
Horgen said the city should appreciate the sensitive habitat values of the area and the importance of conserving key eco-assets.
The city is a full partner with the nonprofit and K’omoks First Nation in the restoration of the old Fields Sawmill site, known as Kus-kus-sum.
In response, Mayor Jangula seemed to indicate there was no cause for alarm.
“I understand your concerns. This was simply a report on transportation plans with suggestions on where to place a third crossing,” Jangula wrote. “The City has no plans at this time to build another bridge. The idea is conceptual.”
That provided little comfort for Project Watershed.
“Thanks for your early response Mayor Jangula. Our deep concern is that this non-viable and ill-informed Option B crossing, being a conceptual report or not, will continue to persist in future planning documents, as these things have been shown to do in the past,” Horgen responded. “Our preference would be to see it removed entirely from this process.”
How was the recommendations developed?
According to a fact sheet published by city staff, the City has explored several alternative crossings of the Courtenay River beyond the 5th Street and 17th Street bridges since 2005.
Public feedback has indicated that growth pressures on the crossings, downtown and northeast areas, as well specifically Ryan Road and Highway 19A Bypass were areas of concern.
But most of the city’s options for a third crossing have been eliminated by a “combination of previous decisions and studies along with technical review in 2018 … due to impacts and/or changes to localized conditions (including 3rd Street, 6th Street, 8th Street, 11th Street, 13th Street, 19th Street, and 20th Street).”
That left crossing alternatives at 21st Street and 29th Street, but “preliminary investigations and stakeholder meetings resulted in eliminating 29th Street from further review largely based on the reduced traffic diversion that would be expected, as well as the significant costs and high environmental impacts.”
That last statement is ironic according to Project Watershed Technical Director Dan Bowen.
“Project Watershed has worked hard to secure the old sawmill site to restore the shoreline of the Courtenay River. The option B flies in the face of all the city’s support of the Kus Kus Sum,” Bowen has said. “The wetland salt marsh ecosystem must be kept as a unit for connectivity of plant species and fish channels.”
Morris Perry, a spokesperson for the Courtenay Airpark, says the community benefits from the facility and supports it. He points to a May 2015 poll by the Comox Valley Record in which 93.7 percent of respondents said the Airpark should stay.
“Lots of votes here and, yes, lots of retired air force families that love the airpark and the green space it provides,” Perry wrote in a comment on Decafnation. “Oh yes, and no cost to the taxpayer as its 100 percent maintained by volunteers and of course all the jobs it provides working on aircraft from companies all over North America, not just Harbour Air.”
Courtenay city staff will present final recommendations for the transportation master plan in the fall. The current council will consider the plan, including any changes they want before final adoption.
However, future council members will decide to proceed with specific recommendations in the plan and fund them through the annual budgeting process.