Summer’s traffic is churning angst.
During June 13’s regular meeting, Tofino’s municipal council turned down a request from local Colin Sadler to open a currently closed gravel stretch of Gibson Street for two months: July and August.
The section is blocked off by boulders and Sadler collected 438 signatures on a petition he presented to council to open it up to vehicle traffic so local drivers could move through town more easily.
Prior to making their decision, council heard from area resident Eileen Floody who opposed the idea said the district should wait until it can properly pave the road before opening it.
“I shudder to think of the first winnebago that tries to manoeuvre up that gravel,” she said. “Let’s all just take a deep breath and do the road right when it’s time for the road to be done.”
Sadler said he recently dealt with a family health emergency that shed light on how tough it is to commute through Tofino’s summer traffic. Mayor Josie Osborne thanked Sadler for raising his concerns and said 438 signatures was an impressive showing of support for his idea, but that there wouldn’t be enough time to properly prepare the gravel roadway in time for July.
The district’s manager of public works Ricardo Araya said opening the road would take time and money away from higher priority projects.
“There’s no temporary band aid that’s worth spending on,” he said.
Coun. Greg Blanchette said the high number of signatures on Sadler’s petition illustrated a discontented community.
“People have really kind of been slapped in the face now by tourism impacts in this town in a way that’s never happened before,” he said. “I first started to hear these complaints about traffic and the ridiculous backups at the fourth street four way last year…Residents are really starting to feel the traffic impacts and, I think, that’s a signal to us that we need to start looking at that a little closer.”
Council agreed to talk about opening Gibson during next year’s budget discussions.
Mayor Josie Osborne will join councillors Cathy Thicke and Al Anderson on a working group to look into whether Tofino should participate in the Canadian Coalition of Municipalities against Racism and Discrimination and what that participation would look like.
Osborne said the group would review the Canadian Commission for UNESCO’s invitation for Tofino’s involvement and bring recommendations back to council so that “an informed decision” could be made.
Coun. Greg Blanchette questioned whether joining the commission would lead to any quantifiable results.
“We’ve talked for our whole term about reconciliation and, I think, we as a council and as a district are poised to move forward on this, but there’s just not any motion happening; or very little motion happening,” he said. “My concern with this would be: is it going to be just another empty declaration or is it going to lead to some actual actions of reconciliation on the ground?”
Osborne assured the working group would discuss ways to make meaningful impacts.
“It’s true that, sometimes, when all is said and done, more is said than done. But, we have to start somewhere and, I think, that we do need to do some small steps,” she said.
Carbon credits to Nanaimo
Tofino will spend its carbon tax dollars out of town but hopes to invest them locally next year.
The Corporation of the District of Tofino was required to offset 82 tonnes worth of carbon it used in 2016 by investing $1,640 in carbon credits, according to Tofino’s community sustainability manager Aaron Rodgers.
Rodgers said he was confident last year that a local investment opportunity could be found this year, but never came to fruition.
“That’s been proven to be quite challenging,” he said adding the district had run out of time to find one.
He recommended Tofino’s council spend their credits on a Nanaimo Gas Capture Project underway at Nanaimo’s landfill that aims to collect methane gas.
Council expressed concern over a local group not being able to benefit from the funds and Rodgers assured he would leave no stone unturned to find a local project to invest in next year.
Blanchette expressed hope the number would be lower next year.
“The whole point of the exercise is, of course, to drop that figure,” he said.
“Not to offset it, but to push that figure down towards zero,” Blanchette said.
Rodgers said the majority of Tofino’s carbon emissions are vehicle related.
“One of our largest emitters is our backhoe and I don’t know of any hybrid backhoes yet. It uses a lot of dirty fuel,” he said.
Tofino will spend roughly $140,000 for a new backhoe in 2017.
The district had previously planned to replace its current backhoe in 2018, but council agreed to move the purchase up after hearing from their manager of public works Ricardo Araya that the current machine “has been in a near inoperable condition due to a breakdown of the rear differential.”
The current backhoe was purchased in 2005. Two district staffers are qualified to operate it and it is used between 30-100 times a year, according to Araya.
Coun. Duncan McMaster wondered if the district could save some money by renting a backhoe when needed, rather than purchasing one.
District CAO Bob MacPherson responded that a backhoe might not always be available for rent in case of an emergency.
“There is a financial question, but there’s also a providing a service question that we shouldn’t lose sight of,” he said.
McMaster said local contractors could respond to emergencies and cited December’s Highway 4 washout disaster as an example.
“I realize that’s a risk but, in reality, when the highway got washed out it was Gibson Brothers that was there first. I think if there was an emergency, the local contractor would be there,” he said.
He asked if the district had ever been let down by the local contractor.
Araya responded that Tofino’s fortunately never been in a position to answer that question.
“There’s lots of emergency results where we haven’t had to rely on them,” he said. “So, by not having to rely on them, we haven’t been disappointed by them.”
Coun. Dorothy Baert suggested renting a backhoe would likely be as expensive as purchasing one over the new machine’s 10-year life-span.
Council’s vote to purchase the new backhoe was unanimous.