Vancouver Island drivers brave minefield of potholes as bureaucrats play pass-the-buck

Area resident Duncan Devlin examines one of the massive potholes that drivers must swerve to avoid on Snowden Rd., located north of the John Hart Dam. Photo by David Gordon Koch/Campbell River MirrorArea resident Duncan Devlin examines one of the massive potholes that drivers must swerve to avoid on Snowden Rd., located north of the John Hart Dam. Photo by David Gordon Koch/Campbell River Mirror
A pothole-strewn stretch of Snowden Rd. runs about 2 km from John Hart Dam to PRT Nursery.A pothole-strewn stretch of Snowden Rd. runs about 2 km from John Hart Dam to PRT Nursery.

Duncan Devlin’s pickup truck swerves from left to right as he steers clear of large, jagged potholes on a road that passes through the woods just north of the John Hart Dam.

He’s been trying to get answers from various levels of government about who is responsible for maintenance on that hazardous stretch of Snowden Road, which leads to his home northwest of Campbell River.

Area residents drive cautiously, he said, but badly damaged sections force them to use the left-hand lane. At blind corners, that puts them at risk of head-on collisions, especially with drivers less familiar with road conditions.

“We mainly have to drive on the opposite side to avoid all the potholes, or wreck our vehicles, one or the other,” he said.

The road, which links PRT Nursery with the John Hart Dam, is labelled as Brewster Lake Road on Google Maps but is listed as Snowden Road on a Strathcona Regional District (SRD) mapping system.

The potholes are up to a foot deep, Devlin said, and area residents have marked some of them with spray paint.

He said residents have also filled some of the worst areas with gravel, but the material appeared to have largely washed away by Sunday when the Mirror accompanied Devlin on a bumpy ride.

He said the badly damaged road serves as a thoroughfare for workers at the PRT Nursery and people who live on nearby Gordon Road, who otherwise must take a long detour along Highway 19. City workers also frequent the thoroughfare to maintain water infrastructure that runs alongside it.

The city formerly maintained the road, but stopped a few years ago after learning that it falls outside of municipal jurisdiction, said Devlin, who moved to the area as a homesteader in 1958.

The road has deteriorated due partly to traffic from heavy vehicles working on the John Hart Generating Station replacement project and from motorists who use the road to access Loveland Bay Provincial Park and other outdoor recreation spots, he said.

He added that local officials are well aware of the problem. He recently met with staff at the office of North Island MLA and Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Claire Trevena, and has reached out to officials at the city, regional district, BC Hydro and the Ministry of Forests, but to no avail.

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Confusion appears to reign about who is responsible for the roughly two-kilometre stretch.

Drew Hadfield, the city’s director of operations, confirmed that the city maintains a water line going from John Hart Lake to the northern part of Campbell River. The line runs primarily along the western side of Snowden Road.

The part of the road that’s still in “reasonable shape” was repaved by the city when that water line was installed a number of years ago, Hadfield said.

Part of the road is located within Campbell River city limits, but it passes through Elk Falls Provincial Park, and that the city doesn’t maintain provincial park roads, Hadfield said.

“It’s not the city’s property, so we shouldn’t be maintaining that roadway,” he said.

Hadfield said the city did some upkeep on the road until around 2010-2011, and that BC Parks subsequently performed maintenance on it. The Mirror has requested comment from BC Parks.

Hadfield added that Emcon, the company that previously held the provincial road maintenance contract for the North Island, used to do some upkeep on Snowden Road because its vehicles travelled that way to reach the north side of Campbell River.

When the John Hart project led to the closure of the road that crosses the dam, Emcon rerouted its vehicles and the level of maintenance on that road fell, Hadfield said. The road closed in April 2015 and re-opened earlier this year.

BC Hydro spokesperson Stephen Watson said in an email that the power utility owns some of the land around its dams, but not the land in question.

“There are confusing land ownership or road ownership issues in that area,” he said, adding that it includes “some Crown land that seems to have no ownership or responsibility.”

Watson noted that the issue has come up in the past, and that officials from the City of Campbell River, B.C. Ministry of Transportation, BC Hydro and others have met to discuss the problem.

Ralda Hansen, community services manager for the SRD, confirmed that Devlin raised the issue with the SRD some years ago, and said that “it is clear that establishing the authority of Snowden Road is complicated and that different authorities may be involved.”

Hansen noted that the provincial Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure is generally responsible for roads, culverts and ditches, and that Mainroad North Island Contracting holds the current provincial contract for maintenance.

But sometimes other entities, including the provincial Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD) or forestry companies have authority for a given right-of-way, Hansen said.

Dawn Makarowski, a spokesperson for FLNRORD, said in an email that Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure staff “are currently looking into” the Snowden Road question. The two ministries will be working together on the issue, she said.

Danielle Pope, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, said in a statement that the ministry sympathizes with Devlin’s concerns and is actively working with him to address the issue.

But she said the road in question “does not appear to be within the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure’s road network” and that the ministry “is currently investigating who is responsible for maintaining the road and hopes to have a resolution in place quickly.”

Devlin confirmed that an official from the provincial transportation ministry contacted him following inquiries by the Mirror. He said he hopes the question of road maintenance gets sorted out before another problem arises: snow removal.

He and a neighbour have small tractors they use for plowing snow, but he said they’re unlicensed for the road.

“They’re not licensed to be on here, but there is no other alternative for us,” he said. “We have to do it ourselves.”


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