The Ucluelet Co-op’s fresh produce aisle is nearly bare and a note has been posted informing customers that the shelves will not be restocked until Hwy. 4 reopens. (Andrew Bailey photo)

The Ucluelet Co-op’s fresh produce aisle is nearly bare and a note has been posted informing customers that the shelves will not be restocked until Hwy. 4 reopens. (Andrew Bailey photo)

UPDATED: Ucluelet and Tofino mayors call for “calmness” and “empathy” as highway closure cuts communities off from supplies

Ministry of transportation expects to open road for “essential travel only” from noon-8 p.m. Friday.

UPDATE: The road was closed at 8 a.m. Friday and will be reopened from 8 a.m. to noon Jan 25 limited to passenger vehicles and light pickups only. Screening at Tofino/Ucluelet junction and Sproat Lake. The plan is to reopen Highway 4 to commercial vehicles in the afternoon of Jan 26. Next update Saturday at 10 a.m. — Drive BC

***

Ucluelet mayor Mayco Noel is encouraging his community to remain calm during a road closure that’s cut the town off from supplies since Wednesday night.

“I’m 100 per cent comfortable that we will navigate through this. It’s going to take some calmness…We just need to work together and be a little bit patient while we overcome this hardship over the next 24 hours,” Noel told the Westerly News Friday morning. “I think that we’d have a big thing to worry about if we didn’t have hydro electricity right now, plus this going on. That would be a double-whammy. There’s no need for alarm other than the inconvenience of missing appointments and scheduled goods and services going back and forth.”

The only highway connecting the West Coast to the rest of Vancouver Island was shut down in both directions by a rockfall during the early morning hours of Jan. 23.

B.C.’s ministry of transportation opened the road to “essential travel only” from noon to 8 p.m. on Friday, but only passenger vehicles and light pickup trucks would be let through as crews work to install a bridge in the affected area.

READ MORE: Tofino-Ucluelet highway will be open for “essential travel only” on Friday

That means food trucks are shut out of the community and the Ucluelet Co-op’s fresh produce aisle was nearly bare on Friday afternoon, with a note posted advising customers that the shelves would not be restocked until the road reopens.

Noel acknolwedged that he is “100 per cent concerned” about the lack of goods coming into town, but added the district office has been in touch with the Co-op and other service providers and is assessing the situation.

“Today, we’re not out of groceries. Tomorrow, we’re not out of groceries. We’re trying to get an understanding of how much fuel there is…Those kinds of things are being asked and we’re just trying to monitor it,” he said. “The ministry is working their best to get those trucks and traffic going and, I think, as the day unfolds, obviously things like ‘How do we get heavy trucks, fish trucks, dairy trucks and Amazon trucks over that pass,’ will come up and that will be something we’ll be able to answer a bit better later on in the day or early [tomorrow] morning…We have a group of professionals working on the problem trying to come up with a solution to allow us the same access we had prior to the incident.”

He noted some have suggested bringing in goods by barge while the highway is closed, but added that might not be possible this time of year.

“Unfortunately, it’s January and barges and car ferries, as much as you may want to turn one on, it doesn’t mean that one can come around through Eagle Passage and into the mouth of Ucluelet here. That is all weather dependent…If you wanted a barge today, is it going to be able to get through there with the weather forecast at 35 knots with three to four metre seas? We’re still held hostage,” he said.

“Personally, I don’t think we’re going to need a barge. They’re working aggressively to get the temporary [bridge] structure in and that’s the focus that the ministry is working on. We will definitely be in the background talking about those barge things and stuff. The preference is, they put a bridge in there and we can gain access and get back to our merry lives.”

READ MORE: Ucluelet mayor says highway closure shows need for car ferry between Port Alberni and West Coast

He added the ministry’s announcement on Friday morning that a bridge will be installed brought him “comfort” and he commended the ministry for keeping the community updated throughout the closure.

“The communication with the ministry is excellent when there’s a major upset, like we’re having here and the last few that we’ve had. They try to keep us informed in detail with what’s going on and what they’re doing because we all want to know,” he said.

READ MORE: Video: Highway closures hit travellers heading in and out of Tofino and Ucluelet

Tofino mayor Josie Osborne expressed similar sentiment, telling the Westerly that the ministry and its contractors “are doing their very best in an incredibly challenging situation.”

She said the current focus is to get the highway reopened to single lane traffic as soon as possible and keeping residents informed, which she acknowledged has been difficult due to the uncertainty of how long it will take for the road to reopen.

“For we, the public, our patience and understanding are really important right now and, after the incident is over, we will take the time to debrief and learn so we can do even better if there is a next time,” she said.

She added the closure shows the need for West Coasters to be prepared.

“This closure is again another important reminder about personal and family preparedness, and this goes beyond physical preparedness but also thinking about the emotional toll that events like this can take on us, our friends and our neighbours,” she said. “Empathy for those who feel anxiety, or whose livelihoods are being impacted is important. It’s a time to be understanding and reach out to see how we can help others cope, keep things in perspective, and to try to step back from the temptation to criticize or place blame in the heat of the moment. As with other incidents, I am proud of the way West Coasters are demonstrating their resilience, looking out for each other, and helping to take care of those folks who have been “stuck” here in paradise.”

READ MORE: VIDEO: Tofino hosts fourth annual Emergency Preparedness Fair

The rockfall that closed the highway was brought on by a mishap during scheduled blasting work being done as part of the provincial and federal government’s ongoing $38 million Kennedy Hill Safety Improvement project.

The project is expected to be complete in the summer of 2020.

“Overall, I remain very satisfied with the way the construction project has unfolded, despite having several unanticipated closures like this one. The Ministry’s communication with local government and agencies like Island Health has been very good, and communication to the public has greatly improved over the first unanticipated closure, for example with flaggers being placed at Sproat Lake and the Junction a lot sooner than in the past,” Osborne said. “There is always room for improvement, and no doubt we will have feedback for the Ministry after the event.”



andrew.bailey@westerlynews.ca

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READ MORE: Ucluelet mayor demands Wi-Fi for commuters stuck in Hwy. 4

READ MORE: Location an issue for food growing project in Tofino

READ MORE: VIDEO: Frequent closures on only highway in and out of Tofino-Ucluelet expected to continue until Summer of 2020

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