A former mayor continues to urge Ucluelet’s council to take a step back on a gravel path plan.
The district is set to install a two-metre wide gravel path along a 620-metre stretch of Marine Drive that is currently without a sidewalk.
The path is part of a larger project to connect the Wild Pacific Trail from He-Tin-Kis Park to Big Beach.
The district has budgeted $75,000 for the gravel path portion of the project and expects to receive proposals from contractors by mid-November. Under the current design, the path would be on the south side of the street and separated from the road by an open ditch to control water run-off.
In August, Marine Drive residents raised concerns over the gravel path’s potential impact on their neighbourhood and expressed dissatisfaction with not having been asked or consulted about the project before it was was announced.
One of those residents is Erik Larsen, who served as Ucluelet’s mayor from 1984-1990 and as a municipal councillor from 1982-1983 and 1990-2005.
In a letter sent to council in August, Larsen suggested a gravel path would look out of place next to a residential street, would be seldom used and would lead to gravel being spun throughout the street by drivers coming out of their driveways. He urged council to consider a paved sidewalk instead.
Seeing the gravel project moving ahead despite concerns from residents, Larsen recently penned a second letter to council asking for a public meeting to be held about the project.
“If the public show enough concern, will you then reconsider your decision,” Larsen asked through the letter. “I do understand that I may be the only person to show up, but you will at least be able to say that you have done your best to communicate with the residents of Ucluelet.”
Council reviewed this letter during Oct. 25’s regular meeting, though Larsen claimed he had hand-delivered it to the district office on Sept. 9 and watched it miss two consecutive meeting agendas.
During the public input session to kick off the meeting, Larsen objected to his letter being included in a staff report about the path project rather than presented on its own.
“It’s just in a report and it’s just for information and my letter asks some very specific questions,” he said. “If you just take it on with the report then it’s just for information and I’m left with no answers to my questions.”
Mayor Dianne St. Jacques told him the purpose of the report was to answer the questions in his letter.
“Well, it didn’t do that,” Larsen responded.
Coun. Sally Mole suggested council take a walk around Marine Drive and visit residents in person.
“I’m not sure that we need a public meeting but, if we’re out on the street, maybe that’s an opportunity to do some door knocking,” she said.
She added council’s conversation around the project occurred during past years’ budget discussions and she encouraged locals to avoid being surprised by future projects by attending this year’s public budget sessions.
“We don’t get a huge turnout to our budget process. I know it’s not terribly exciting, but projects like these do come up and the public is welcome to give input at any time during that process,” she said.
“We’re starting that process now and there will be opportunity for public input so please do come out and let your voices be heard.”
After council’s conversation, Larsen expressed dismay at the open ditch idea.
“I was looking for a proper sidewalk and curbs and, seeing as that’s not likely to happen, I’m a little distressed,” he said. “I’m really distressed now. It was bad enough with the gravel path, but now you’ve got a ditch also which, I think, is just not acceptable.”
He also suggested council consider putting the path on the north side of the road rather than the south.
“When you do go over there and look at it, like Coun. Mole suggested, you’ll see that, if you were to build it on the other side of the road, construction would be a whole lot easier,” he said.