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Several SCRD trail bridges damaged in 2021 storms still closed – and will remain so

More than two years after a devastating storm damaged regional infrastructure in November 2021, and caused a local state of emergency, some pedestrian bridges in Roberts Creek and Elphinstone remain closed – and will remain so for the rest of this year. 
Cliff Gilker Park map

More than two years after a devastating storm damaged regional infrastructure in November 2021, and caused a local state of emergency, some pedestrian bridges in Roberts Creek and Elphinstone remain closed – and will remain so for the rest of this year. 

The crossing structures in Cliff Gilker and Chaster Parks damaged during the 2021 event need upwards of $2 million in repairs, improvements and other work before they can be re-opened to the public, according to SCRD staff reports for the May 23 committee of the whole meeting.

Staff recommend decommissioning of two Cliff Gilker bridges

In Cliff Gilker, there are four bridges that have been impacted. In consultation with industry professionals (with an approved consulting budget of $38,000), staff are proposing “the Upper Waterfall (at the park’s main entrance) and Gorge bridges be replaced and the Lower and Zig Zag bridges be decommissioned and removed."

Staff’s recommendation is to use steel truss clear span bridge structures with no in-stream piers, designed to withstand Clack Creek flows during heavy rains. Those types of bridge replacements, the removal of the two bridges, trail repairs including accessibility improvements, are estimated to cost $1.67 million. The estimated lifespan of the proposed new infrastructure would be 75 years. The SCRD was unsuccessful in a 2022 grant application for portions of this work and the report stated, “staff continue to review grant opportunities."

The SCRD’s plan is to launch a “Let’s Talk” public engagement page regarding plans for re-establishing trail access throughout the park and to use input received in drafting a 2025 budget proposal.

“Public consultation (on this proposed project) was not on anyone’s work plan,” community services manager Shelley Gagnon told the committee. After explaining that more intensive discussion in the community and involvement of volunteers was not part of staff plans at this point, she said that once more details on the future work are known, staff could look at a volunteer engagement plan, as some activities in the refurbishing will be “low risk” and could include volunteers.

Budgeting and temp access changes recommended for Chaster

At the meeting, the Chaster Park Pedestrian Bridge Recovery project received the committee’s OK for consideration in next year’s budget process. For this year, staff will report back to the committee on improving access to the SCRD’s Chaster House facility until bridge repairs are put in place.

The bridge was taken out of commission by heavy stormwater flows during the November 2021 atmospheric river and has remained closed since. With that closure, alternative access to Chaster House via a temporary gravel path was established.

In discussing approaches to the situation, Area E (Elphinstone) director Donna McMahon said “a broader discussion is merited. The question is when, how and what would that repair look like?”

“The business case is difficult” for the project, she said, as staff are estimating costs in the range of $700,000 to replace the bridge that is one of several points of access to an SCRD community hall that is rented out at $15/hour. In her view, the temporary access is not welcoming and leads many members of the public to believe that the house is not in operation. She stated it is also creating problems with keeping floors clean.

The location of Chaster House, adjacent to both a stream and ocean frontage, was the reason cited by Area F director Kate Stamford for her vote in opposition to the recommendation about improving temporary access. She questioned investing in a property that is at risk due to sea-level rise. Those concerns were shared by Area D director Kelly Backs, who also opposed that recommendation.

Vine Creek work estimates coming this year

Another bridge, in the Pender Harbour area, will also remain closed through this year. 

At the board’s meeting on May 9, a petition signed by 142 members of the public urged the SCRD to “act now” to restore the Vine Creek bridge.

That 18-metre-long crossing, built 25 years ago with locally accessed logs by volunteers, is part of the Suncoast Trail on provincial crown land behind BC Hydro’s Malaspina substation. Following a condition assessment completed in 2017, the province determined it was unsafe and required its full closure in November 2022.

At that meeting, Gagnon explained that a request for proposals, slated to be issued in June, will provide the local government with a better idea on costs for replacement. “Once we get to consideration of construction, then we can look at the use of volunteers…that can have impacts on timing and complexity of the project… but (the SCRD is) not at that stage right now".

Area A director and board chair Leonard Lee, thanked Gagnon for the update, stating “everything is in hand but it takes time. There are so many regulations that we have to meet.”