After detailed assessments of the landslide on Quesnel-Hydraulic Road, which has been washed out since April, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI) has reversed its plans to open a single-lane roadway through the slide area.
Residents were notified of the change Aug. 28 in an email from Steve Sirett, deputy director of MOTI’s Southern Interior Region.
The news came as a blow to residents south of the slide — mainly ranchers who need to get cattle to sale in the next few weeks. The community has been rallying for the road to be fixed since heavy rain and freshet washed it out this spring.
The detour route — via French Road to Highway 97 at Kersley — is unfeasible for the 53-foot cattle liners needed to transport the animals. During an interview in late July, Lisa Larsen, who owns a cattle operation on Quesnel-Hydraulic Road with her husband Wilfred, said it’s an animal welfare issue. A truck full of live animals can’t be safely transported up and down the steep grades on French Road.
“The cattle pile up in the back of the cattle liner,” she explained.
Animals would be injured, or even die, on the trip out to Highway 97.
After a community meeting in early August, Sirett and his team committed to attempting to construct a single-lane roadway through the slide, in order to address residents’ concerns. But two weeks after assessments began, he told residents significant safety issues and logistical challenges have put a stop to plans.
“The site remains saturated and continues to show signs of active movement,” Sirett wrote.
“Due to the saturation of the clay soils, the ground has a tendency to liquify under conditions with even minor vibrations,” he said, including a link to a video showing a Ministry staff member sinking ankle-deep in soil after briefly shimmying his body back and forth. Heavy machinery would fare much worse.
Other issues Sirett outlined include the difficulty of removing large trees from the area to ensure worksafe measures, and concerns over disrupting spawning trout and salmon in the Quesnel River, should silt from the construction area spill into the water.
Sirett said MOTI will instead return to its mandate to improve conditions on French Road.
“The Ministry is still committed to making substantial improvements to French Road with emphasis on cattle liner passage and winter maintenance,” he wrote.
MOTI staff plan to deliver a virtual presentation of findings and plans to Quesnel-Hydraulic Road residents on Sept. 2.