Viewpoint: Pathway project disturbs

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By LUISA MAFFI & DAVID RAPPORT

As islanders with environmental values, we are fully in favour of paths and trails as means to foster active transportation and discourage the car culture, with clear health benefits for both people and the planet. As residents of the Baker Road to Booth Canal Road area, however, we are appalled by the current pathway construction along that stretch of Lower Ganges Road, which we find woefully misconceived and highly damaging of both the natural and the cultural heritage of the area.

Other islanders have already expressed dismay for the unannounced and unexamined loss of nearly two dozen trees along the pathway — trees that the project had deemed problematic for construction. As we see it, however, the trees were not the problem. Rather, the problem resided squarely within us humans. That’s what happens when we set out to pursue our goals — laudable in principle as they may be — in ways that are insensitive to and damaging of the natural world, instead of working with nature in a thoughtful and respectful manner. Most, if not all, of those trees might have been spared if project planning had been grounded in ecological principles rather than being driven by engineering concerns.

Now it turns out that a similarly aggressive approach has also been applied to some of Salt Spring’s cultural heritage, which likewise happened to be an “obstacle” to construction work.  On both corners of Baker Road, where it meets Lower Ganges Road, lies one of Salt Spring’s historic cemeteries, a tranquil spiritual site that exudes the island’s rural character. That spirituality and that character have now been desecrated and defaced. The narrow, sloping shoulder has been dug out completely, right up to the cemetery’s fence, and a jarringly unsightly retaining wall of concrete blocks has been erected to prevent collapse of the now exposed edge of the graveyard. 

How could something so egregiously out of line with rural character come to pass? In conversations with both CRD director Gary Holman, and Allen Xu, the CRD engineer overseeing this project, we learned that funding for this particular section of the pathway was obtained from the transportation ministry hastily and with a tight deadline for work completion. Hence a rushed and heavy-handed approach that aimed far more at meeting the deadline than at being mindful of the area’s natural and cultural features. And hence, too, the omission of a well-publicized community consultation process. 

The damage is done, and we were told it is impossible to stop the project now and rethink it from a less intrusive perspective. But the worst of the damage can and must be remediated, ensuring that the concrete blocks along the cemetery’s edge and further down the road are completely covered over with backfill and that significant revegetation is done. We had assurances that the CRD will do its best to conduct such restoration, but this intent must be confirmed publicly and an action plan and timeline be put forth just as soon as possible.

Above all, some serious soul searching must take place within and among the CRD, the transportation commission, the volunteer organizations working on pathways, and the community at large, so that that such an egregious debacle never happens again.

The writers are long-term residents of Salt Spring Island.

1 Comment
  1. Brenda Guiled says

    Thank you for your important commentary.

    Regarding the final sentence, that “… some serious soul searching must take place” among pathway-builders, including the volunteer organizations working on pathways:

    As a 10+-year member of the Island Pathways board, please note that our Partners Creating Pathways (PCP) committee has not been involved in this pathway’s construction , nor have we built any of our nearly 5 km of pathways in this manner.

    Road and drainage issues, including a vintage wooden culvert, got MoTI involved to a greater extent than usual, with their urban/suburban standards and procedures taking precedence. Island Pathways advised minimal tree removal and using rock-wall, not lock-block, retaining structures, and we will continue to advocate for place-sensitive pathway-building.

    That said, we’re very pleased that this pathway section will soon be in use, and we hope to contribute to landscaping to help it heal and grow to beauty again. Salt Spring will be better for this new amenity, so onward to the next pathway and shoulder-improvement projects, to better serve those on foot, mobility devices, and bicycles.

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