VERNON - Despite ongoing opposition, Vernon’s MLA says there’s no going back on the latest plan for Stickle Road.
Vernon-Monashee MLA Eric Foster expects construction to start at Highway 97 and Stickle Road this year, although completion of the entire $9.5 million project could take a couple of years.
The work will include improvements at the intersection itself, plus the connection of a frontage road with 20 Street behind Rona. That will require paving through the existing wetland and boardwalk.
Foster says the boardwalk will be rebuilt once the project is complete and it’s possible more wetland on the opposite side of the highway will be conserved as part of the initiative — but it’s still not sitting well with all local residents.
In an open letter to the provincial government, Vernon resident Dr. Barbara Rawlek points to the "exorbitant cost" of the project and says it will threaten a number of red and blue listed plant and animal species found in the wetland.
“We owe it to ourselves, our future generations, and all of these amazing plants and animals to preserve them. It should be made into a park, not destroyed by unnecessary road building,” Rawlek says in the letter, which is circulating on social media.
The president of the North Okanagan Naturalists’ Club has previously spoken out against the project and has a petition online.
An environmental study found two rare ecosystems in the project area that could be directly impacted by the road work, but did not identify any wildlife species of management concern. The report makes a number of recommendations to mitigate impacts, such as planning construction around breeding and migrating times for birds and fish.
But, Foster says the project plan is final. Construction at the intersection is expected to start and finish in 2017, while the extension of the frontage road could take as long as two years. Foster says the wetland will first have to be pre-loaded with material.
“There’s no way of knowing how long you have to leave the pre-load on it,” Foster says.
The province first unveiled plans for the intersection in April of 2015, but opposition forced the project back to the drawing board multiple times. The Ministry of Transportation spent roughly $370,000 exploring various design options, according to a freedom of information request.
While some municipal politicians and residents favoured a traffic light, the latest safety review concluded signalization is not warranted and would increase the risk of collisions.
“You can’t argue with safety,” Foster says.
In her letter, Rawlek says the developer of the wetland property gave the land to the ministry to avoid the cost of building a road through the swamp. She believes a roundabout on the highway would solve the traffic issues without affecting the wetland.
Foster confirms the province purchased a small portion of the land, but wouldn’t comment on any agreements made with the landowner.
“That part of it is between the city and the landowner,” Foster says.
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