Canada’s federal government is wrapping an $18 million gift for the West Coast but neither Tofino nor Ucluelet can afford to use it yet.
The Pacific Rim National Park Reserve plans to install a roughly $18 million bike path spanning its borders and ending roughly 2.5 kilometres from Tofino and 1 kilometre from Ucluelet.
This has both Tofino and Ucluelet’s local governments scrambling to find the funds needed to extend their own paths to the Park’s and prevent potential bottleneck-effects as cyclists pedal out of the Park and onto the Pacific Rim Highway. Tofino estimates that extending its Multi-Use Path to the Park will cost $3.5 million and Ucluelet has put their connection-cost estimate at around $1 million.
The NDP’s Courtenay-Alberni M.P. Gord Johns is urging the federal government to dig deeper into its pockets to ensure its $18 million investment doesn’t create dangerous gaps between both towns.
In a letter to Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna, dated Nov. 28, Johns expressed gratitude for the path project but suggested a lack of consultation has put local governments in a precarious position.
“It is very important to note that the section between the proposed end of the trail from PNPR into Tofino is a very dangerous area for cyclists and pedestrians and must not be left unfinished,” Johns wrote.
“Residents and municipal officials have legitimate safety concerns about people trying to use the highway to finish their commute.”
He added the costs Tofino and Ucluelet are facing to connect to the Park are high and questioned why the communities weren’t consulted before the Park’s path was mapped out and announced.
“Although I have no desire to criticize this gift, I would be remiss if I did not point out that had public consultation on this trail taken place, the government would have known the impact this would have on these resort municipalities and been able to address the shortcomings of the trail itself, prior to making the funding announcement,” he wrote. “I urge you to allocate the necessary funds and assist the local municipalities in closing the gaps in the trail so that everyone can wholeheartedly celebrate this gift that you have given our local communities.”
Johns told the Westerly News he reached out to McKenna after a meeting with Tofino’s council, who had advised him the path connection was a top priority.
“[McKenna] was, of course, surprised and didn’t know about the fact that there’s a link that could cost $3.5 million to connect between the district of Tofino and the Pacific Rim National Park,” he said.
“I’ve been talking to her on a regular basis. They’re looking at it and they’re going to try to find every way possible to help find a solution. She’s assured me of that but I’ve stayed on it and we’re talking every few days.”
He added the path wouldn’t be celebrated unless both Tofino and Ucluelet were connected and that it’s unrealistic to expect the communities to find the necessary funds on their own.
“It would be really a shame to see the minister come out, or any official, to cut a ribbon on a trail that wouldn’t connect with the district of Tofino,” he said.
“For the district of Tofino to try to find 3.5 million out of their small budget, which is obviously strained with the amount of tourism and visitors that really force the district to have services that are well beyond the population base, is incredibly difficult and challenging.”
Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne was thrilled to see Johns take her council’s concerns to heart.
“Gord is going to bat for us,” she said.
“This is exactly what our M.P. is supposed to do. He understands the issue that we have and how the federal government might be able to help us and he makes the connections. He’s got the relationships in Ottawa and he and his staff go to work for us.”
She hopes John’s efforts bear fruit and lead to federal funding.
“We don’t have $3.5 million,” she said. “We’re discussing as a Tofino council how we can build funding into our five year financial plan, maybe through resort municipality, municipal reserves or taxation dollars, but, we don’t have enough money. We know we won’t have enough money.”
She said connecting Tofino to the Park’s path is important because the vast majority of bicyclists won’t be spending their nights in the Park and the highway does not currently provide safe passage.
“You’re either going to sleep in Ucluelet or Tofino and, if you want to cycle into the Park, you’re stuck,” she said. “You have to come out on the road and we’ve heard pretty consistently from cyclists that it’s quite unsafe to ride their bicycle on the shoulder, especially that iffy section between Cox Bay and the Park’s boundary.”
She said the district is grateful for the government’s investment but hadn’t been expecting it to happen so soon and was caught off guard when the announcement was made in April.
“We had been thinking that this was a project that was a little farther in the future than it really is so, suddenly, the reality is they’re going to build a trail but it doesn’t connect to the multi-use paths at either end,” she said. “That means we have a bit of a gap. We have a physical gap in terms of the path and we have a funding gap as well.”