Massive sinkhole closes Grice Bay Road near Tofino

A 10-foot deep sinkhole that closed Grice Bay Road near Long Beach, on Vancouver Island has local leaders wondering about aging infrastructure – specifically 10 similar culverts of a similar age on Highway 4 leading into Tofino. 

District of Tofino council members voted Tuesday to immediately initiate discussion with the BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure to investigate the state of the these culverts and of highway safety on the only road artery in and out of the West Coast. 

The cavern that opened up Friday, June 23 took up more than a lane, and narrowly missed swallowing vehicles commuting from Grice Bay to West Coast communities. 

Between rain erosion, narrow or non-existent shoulders and aging wood box culverts, water will find a way, Mayor Josie Osborne told the Westerly. 

“It slowly eroded a cavern and the road was bound to fail,” she said. 

Now the concern is for other spots in the road that may be on their last legs, she said. 

The closure of Grice Bay road for significant repairs disrupts some boat commuters and pleasure recreators – but a similar disruption on Highway 4 could be a major concern considering the essential travel on the road as well as the million or so tourist visits made to the West Coast each year. 

“There are other culverts on Highway 4 that were built at the same time,” said Osborne, estimating that there are 10 culverts of similar age and materials just between the north end of the park boundary and Tofino. 

Osborne said she’d seen similar things in her work as a Fisheries biologist.

 â€œThe Park is not alone when it comes to infrastructure challenges. We see this across Canada as bridges and highways fail because of deferred maintenance or delayed replacement,” she said. 

Until this week, Alicia Bailey of Ucluelet commuted from Grice Bay to Creative Salmon’s Dolly Pass site via boat. 

Her commute just got 15 minutes longer with the trek into Tofino after the road closed. 

“I drove over it without realizing – it was a big lump in the road at 4:30 p.m. It was enough for us to stop and say ‘What did we run over?’ 

“By the time we got home, it was a full-blown sinkhole. I’m very glad it didn’t go while we were going over it,” she said. “If it had caved in, it would have caused an accident or something.” 

Laura Judson is communications officer for the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. 

She said records indicate the culvert was repaired and the road strengthened about 15 years ago. 

Last week’s heavy rains caused the wooden culvert to collapse, she said. 

Temporary steel plates were put down to bring out Creative Salmon cars stuck at Grice Bay, she said. 

The Park was already looking into doing some updates to the road that winds from Highway 4 to the scenic Grice Bay, but replacing the culvert and opening the road is now top priority, Judson said.

“It’s seriously undermined, so we won’t be able to let traffic on it until we’ve got that new culvert in there,” she said. 

“It is an important fish-bearing stream, so we’re taking that into account in how we make the repair.” 

Judson said Park officials are grateful people quickly spoke up about the sinkhole. 

“We were able to get on the scene and barricade it. We’re really glad people spoke up and took action as soon as they saw it occur,” she said.

Parks Canada has a 24-hour dispatch for such emergency notices. Callers can dial 250-726-3604 or 1-877-852-3100, Judson said. 

The Long Beach Golf Course wasn’t affected by the closure, and the tsunami evacuation site is still available.

jcarmichael@westerlynews.ca