Highways ministry looks into rockfall protection mesh after deer trapped

Government says it is taking immediate steps and looking into long term plan to protect wildlife on Westside Road project

  • Nov. 2, 2016 6:00 p.m.

New measures to protect wildlife are in the works on the Westside Road project after what the province called a rare incident with rockfall fencing.

The provincial government says it is taking “immediate remedial measures” after a deer was caught and died under some rockfall protection fencing installed along a construction project on Westside Road near Kelowna.

The transportation ministry is calling it a rare incident and a spokesperson says government is taking steps to prevent this type of thing from happening again.

“Our geotechnical engineers are looking at long-term options that will prevent wildlife from becoming trapped while providing the critically important rock fall fencing to ensure motorists’ safety,” said Kate Mukasa, public affairs officer for the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.

“The safety of the traveling public is the ministry’s top priority; the rock fall protection mesh is installed to prevent rock fall from reaching Westside Road.”

Mukasa added the ministry intends to put up snow fencing in front of the mesh as a short-term solution to help prevent wildlife from accessing the area.

“We are working closely with the ministry of forests, lands and natural resource operations to find a long-term solution and to ensure the remedial measures we put in place are suitable,” she said.

A concerned resident captured photographs of the dead deer trapped under some rock fall meshing and also told the Kelowna Capital News that he was concerned about the effects the ongoing construction project was having on resident big horn sheep along Westside Road.

“I’ve been observing the bighorn for many years and driving Westside road also every day for many years,” said resident David Weisgarber.

“The bighorn appear to have lost much body weight since the construction started two years ago,”

According to ministry staff, the estimated herd population in Westside Road area is approximately 79 bighorn sheep.

They say the sheep are highly habituated to people and there isn’t much disturbance to their patterns from construction.

“Staff have been working with ministry of transportation and infrastructure on mitigation of effects from construction,” said Mukasa who also stated the biggest threat to bighorn sheep in the area is from moving vehicles.

“Fortunately the sheep are active during day and speeds are limited due to winding roads.”

She added they are working towards long-term efforts to deal with risks to bighorn sheep along the road which could include warning signs alerting motorists of the animals.

The Westside Road project involves improvements along the west side of Okanagan Lake from West Kelowna to Highway 97 near O’Keefe Ranch, a five-year project that will take place over approximately 65 kilometres.

Existing conditions include minimal shoulder width, inadequate ditch width for drainage and debris catchment, uneven pavement and inadequate room for roadside barrier.

Traffic volumes range from 1,500 vehicles per day near Fintry to 4,000 vehicles per day south of Bear Creek Provincial Park during summer months.

The total project cost is $45 million.

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