Officials hope to upgrade logging road where fatal bus crash occurred
Ian Holliday, CTV Vancouver Island
Published Sunday, September 15, 2019 3:19PM PDT
Last Updated Monday, September 16, 2019 9:15AM PDT
Regular users of the road on which two people were killed in a bus crash Friday night say it has been in need of repairs and improvements for years.
"It's getting busier and busier all the time, and it's not in good condition," Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions told CTV News Vancouver Island on Saturday.
A bus carrying 45 students and two teaching assistants from the University of Victoria went over an embankment on Bamfield Main Friday night, killing two and injuring several others.
Though the road is privately owned and primarily used by logging trucks, it is also a primary route for accessing Bamfield Marine Science Centre, where the bus was headed Friday night, and the Huuayaht First Nation.
Huuayaht Chief Robert Dennis told CTV News Vancouver Island his nation has been pushing for upgrades to the road for a long time.
The road is unpaved, and the rainy winter season often leaves it full of potholes that make it difficult to navigate. It's also remote, without cell phone service for much of the route.
Dennis said the road is currently "in better condition than it normally is this time of the year."
Minions said she was told the same thing -- that the road was in decent condition -- when she toured it a few months ago.
"I was personally quite shocked at the condition, so, you know, if that's a good day, it's really concerning for the people who are travelling that road every day," she said.
Minions said the Huuayaht First Nation has been "leading" the push for the road to be paved or otherwise reinforced, and added that she expected renewed efforts to upgrade the road after Friday's tragic crash.
"We've been very active with the province trying to get them to upgrade this road," Dennis said. "The big issue has been that the road is owned by Western Forest Products. It's their forest service road. And Island Timberlands'."
In a statement provided to CTV News Vancouver, Western Forest Products described the road's complex ownership structure.
"TFL 44 Limited Partnership, which is a joint partnership owned by Western Forest Products Inc. and Huumiis Ventures Limited Partnership (a partnership beneficially owned by the Huu-ay-aht First Nations), owns portions of the Bamfield Road," the company said, adding that the road has regular grading and maintenance work performed on it.
The portion of the road where the crash occurred was last graded on Sept. 12, the company said.
"Western has supported local communities’ requests to upgrade the road and has written letters of support to provincial ministers on the matter," the company added. "We would like to express our deepest sympathies to the victims and their families and to those who were injured in the incident. Like everyone in the community, we were heartbroken to learn of this tragedy."
Dennis said Huuayaht First Nation has offered to help pay for any upgrades to the road, and that recent discussions on the topic have been "quite serious."
"We're hopeful that some progress can be made," Dennis said.