A formal response to the 20-year delay in a long-term solution to Highway 97 traffic in Peachland has proven divisive for the district council.
At a special council meeting last Thursday (Aug. 20), a letter of protest over that delay intended for B.C. Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Claire Travena drew the ire of Mayor Cindy Fortin, who wanted more time for council to discuss how to move forward in the wake of the disappointment over the delay decision, which councillors formerly heard from ministry officials at their Aug. 11 council meeting.
The letter was written by Coun. Keith Fielding, who was serving as acting mayor at the time while Fortin was on vacation, and submitted to council for approval under Fortin’s name.
The letter stated: “There are significant problems at several intersections and the proposed solutions makes considerable sense. However, the decision by MOTI to defer consideration of a long term solution is frankly, intolerable.”
The letter called for assurances from Victoria the possible four-lane long-term solution of the existing highway through the centre of the community is “off the table” because “our community is traumatized by the prospect of a possible 4-lane highway being driven through the centre of Peachland.”
In conclusion, the letter went on to say: “The idea that full capacity will not be achieved for another 20 years may be statistically demonstrated, but seems horribly mistaken from an on the ground perspective.”
Fortin said she was incensed about the letter for several reasons. She felt a special council meeting last week wasn’t appropriate to deal with the issue.
She also questioned what impact it would have with the ministry at this point, with more emphasis now better placed on potential short- and medium-term traffic intersection solutions that ministry officials have suggested to council, most notably being the Trepanier Road access and egress.
“We have been flogging this horse forever….I suggest we move forward by focusing on what we can do rather than continually spinning our wheels to nowhere,” Fortin said. Fielding argued the letter would send an immediate response to the ministry which he felt was important.
“If we don’t, I believe is will send a signal of indifference and acceptance, and not of shock and disbelief and extreme frustration with an unacceptable decision,” he said.
Fortin questioned that logic given that the ministry’s decision had been made months before and the presentation at the Aug. 11 council meeting was ministry staff following proper protocols to announce it.
She also stated that no plans exist at present to four-lane the existing Highway 97 rather than build a bypass at this time, a choice Fielding acknowledged was choosing “between the lesser of two evils.”
However, Fielding noted it has been the position of the current council and the two councils proceeding them to support the long-term bypass alternative option.
“Our approach up to now isn’t working,” responded Fortin. “We need to put on our big boy and big girl pants and take a different approach to this which is why I am steamed about this letter.”
Coun. Mike Kent said the letter stands on its own and should in no way disrupt any short- or-medium-term highway upgrade plans in the works.
“We went through this big process and the primary reason we went through with the Peachland transportation study and messaging all along was to explore and identify a preferred (long-term) alternate route,” said Kent.
“And the lack of a conclusion to the that process left us with holding an empty bag. No decision was made.
“At best it was an information gathering exercise with no resolution, which keeps Peachland in the dark for the foreseeable future.”
Coun. Patrick Van Minsel defended Fortin’s position, saying there is no urgency to send the letter now, and more discussion within the community about a long-term solution were still warranted.
“We have been waiting for 25 years so to me a few more days doesn’t really matter,” Van Minsel said.
In the end, council voted to forward the letter to the Trevena, over the lone objections of Fortin and Van Minsel.