CHASE - Despite support from First Nation leadership, not all band members are in favour of the second phase of construction the widening of the Trans-Canada Highway near Chase.
Robin Billy, chief of the Adams Lake First Nation in Chase, says he’s not aware of how many people are standing in protest of the provincial highway’s four-lane development, but says it’s been 'about a week' since demonstrations began.
According to the Kamloops Daily News, First Nation members held a vigil in November 2013 after the Ministry of Transportation announced plans to begin work on a portion of Highway 1 from Pritchard to Hoffman’s Bluff near Chase to widen the highway to four-lanes near a Secwepemc burial site. Several archaeological digs near the section of land uncovered remains and artifacts around 350 years old, which spurred lengthy project negotiations between the province and bands. The vigil included a four-day sacred fire ceremony.
Supporters of the development point to the numerous collisions caused by a narrow roadway.
Along with support from the Adams Lake First Nation, the provincial government compromised with the Neskonlith and Splatsin First Nations. It was agreed remains from the burial site would be placed deeper in the ground to remain untouched by work crews.
Billy says while band chief and council remain supportive of the project, there are still Secwepemc community members affected by the project’s second phase.
“It’s a sacred site so that’s why they’re concerned about the development of Hoffman’s Bluff,” he says, adding protests started once transport vehicles arrived on scene. “It’s become a reality. They’ve done all the clearing and now the equipment’s moving in. I think there’s been general agreement on the highway construction, but the actual design of the highway and everything in regards to how the development plan is rolling out is not always made aware to all the members. (There’s) no real process of ratification at the community level. That’s what leads to miscommunication or delays in projects.”
Billy adds he plans to create a better communication plan for his band members to inform them of projects which could impact the area's land.
Sgt. Gary Heebner with the Chase RCMP said protesters began late in April but has no plans for staff to attend the area unless a call is made. After making the drive down Wednesday afternoon, a corporal with the detachment only noticed one protester.
The highway-widening project’s first phase began July 2013. The road improvements are part of a Transport Canada initiative to add four lanes of highway from Kamloops to Alberta.
Joint funding from provincial and federal governments will pay the total $61.6 million project cost. Completion of phase two is expected by Fall 2016.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Transporation said protesters are not affecting the project schedule and there are no concerns for safety or traffic impact. The ministry is in contact with Neskonlith leaders who are speaking to protesters. The ministry says it wishes to work with the band to 'ensure archaeological and cultural values are protected during this four-laning project.'
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— This story was updated at 10:13 a.m., May 7, 2015, to include comment from the Ministry of Transportation.