The Eagleridge Bluffs Coalition is refusing to let go of its campaign to save the bluffs from the Highway 99 expansion. Approximately 30 coalition members stormed the legislature, picketing parliament in Victoria on Thursday (April 6), and they're now planning to set up a tent city at the bluffs as a method of blockading scheduled blasting.
"The intent is to be there until we get a resolution," said coalition media liaison Trish Panz. "So who knows how long?The Ministry of Transportation plans to log a path through the forest and then blast a canyon through the bluff's rock to accommodate a new highway. Logging and blasting through the bluffs and adjacent wetlands are slated to begin Tuesday (April 18). To stop the destruction of the popular nature preserve in the heart of West Vancouver, the coalition and supporters will gather on Monday to begin their occupation of the bluffs. Supporters will gather at the Inukshuk building at 5 p.m. for a brief ceremony celebrating the bluffs, then move on to a permanently manned tent city. "This civil action will not stop until the BC government has chosen a new, sustainable highway route past the bluffs," stated a coalition news release.
For two years the coalition has unsuccessfully lobbied the Ministry of Transportation for a tunnel rather than an overland route joining West Vancouver to Sunset Beach.
Provincial authorities continue to reject the coalition's proposed tunnel as too expensive - approximately $70 million more than the overland route - as well as less safe. The coalition brought the issue to federal court on environmental grounds, but lost the case. The province received federal environmental certification for the overland plan. The coalition is also threatening to set up pickets at MLA Joan McIntyre's West Vancouver office.
But the demonstrations are leaving provincial authorities unfazed.
"Obviously they're very well, passionate would be an understatement. They're going to great lengths," said McIntyre. "I just could never justify spending a third of the entire $600 million on the first kilometer to put a tunnel through there. I argued strenuously that the money needed to be spent along the corridor on the whole highway with safety features like dividers. People at Lions Bay were emailing me saying they were losing the lives of people in their community. Squamish has a four-lane highway that's going to be dissecting their community and it was important that money be spent on safety."
McIntyre said that although the coalition claims to have thousands of supporters, she's recieved form emails from 500 concerned individuals, most living outside the riding.
"I've explained to them over and over I represent 40,000 people," she said. "And most, from Lions Bay up to Squamish, they're ecstatic."
Construction is already impacting recreational use of the bluffs. The parking lot at Eagleridge was closed on April 1, the popular Baden Powell Trail is now closed at the Eagleridge parking lot and the Black Mountain Trail will also be subject to temporary scheduled closures.
Logging and construction is underway on the south side of the highway from Nelson Creek to Eagleridge and towardsHorseshoe Bay, and the work will continue, said Sea to Sky highway improvement project executive director Peter Milburn.
"We have to get on and do the improvements," he said, but acknowledged that the blockade may cause safety issues. "We've got to make sure that we're working with site safety and that includes safety of the workers or, if there's protestors, then the general public. So that will be our primary responsibility."