(An edited version of this letter will be in the Alberni Valley Times and possibly other Island papers in the coming days.)
It seems transportation planning for the Alberni and Nanaimo Regional Districts has been hijacked. Why were taxpayers never consulted or even informed of the creation of this committee and its $100 Million proposal to Government?
Don’t get me wrong, I want the Asia Pacific Gateway to happen in Port Alberni. I have sent many letters to our elected representatives advocating for Port Alberni to be part of it. In fact, this was the very basis of the vision that founded Port Alberni 100 years ago and now is the time to make it happen.
But in these times of economic austerity, it is insulting to taxpayers that local leaders would propose spending up to $100 million on a 25 kilometre highway when reactivating the Alberni rail line would be a fraction of the cost. And where does the insult end? What will the total be after the ring road around and through Port Alberni is included? $125 Million? $150 Million? Do they care?
Port Alberni Port Authority representative Darren Deluca cites a decrease in potential accidents, yet by rail those accidents would effectively disappear. He cites opportunities connecting Nanaimo and Annacis Island with Port Alberni yet the railway operates directly from both already. He cites time savings from Courtenay yet it will take longer to get to Nanaimo and that’s where most of the industrial traffic is going. These new routes would blast through the watersheds of Horne Lake and Cherry Creek plus the City of Port Albernis’ Bainbridge Lake and China Creek. They would threaten or destroy existing tourism and recreational assets like the cabins and campsites around Horne Lake and ATV, bike and hiking trails around Alberni.
By contrast, the railway would destroy nothing, would actually enhance existing tourism operations and provide opportunities for more. In fact, for the ridiculous sums this committee has dreamt up the railway could even be extended down the Alberni Inlet to a whole new Port Authority terminal well away from the busy Alberni Harbour, the toxic fibre mat, the inversion, and struggling businesses or annoyed residents. All with the knowledge that the customers, not the taxpayers, would pay for maintenance of the railway once it was built.
And yet their solution is to put forward an outrageously expensive and destructive proposal for a new truck route that would mainly benefit the coal mine.
Over six hundred people signed a petition for rail to be used. The AEC survey and Tofino Chamber of Commerce have both shown serious concern in the public and businesses for trucking along with outright opposition to the coal mine. Even the Alberni Chambers’ own survey indicated specific support for rail over trucks.
Make no mistake, this is about more than the coal mine now. This is about the future of transportation not only on Vancouver Island but the world. What is the most efficient way to move something to and from North America and the Asia Pacific Region? Billions of taxpayer dollars have been spent on rail infrastructure for the Ports of Prince Rupert and Vancouver. Port Alberni could be part of that. I hope that the Regional Transportation Committee comes to its senses, considers the facts, consults and listens to its citizens, and comes to the logical conclusion for the rail line to be our primary transportation link to the world. Readers can see more information at www.vifreightbyrail.ca