Pinnacle Pellet’s vice president of business development, saying the current traffic flow situation to and from the Burns Lake plant is dangerous, may be an overstatement.
Lodge said to Lakes District News last week that during the plant’s construction phase, a traffic flow study was completed.
The study determined that only modest works needed to be completed to the intersection of Augier Forest Service Rd. and Hwy. 16 to include a deceleration lane for traffic turning into the plant.
However, during a rural caucus meeting held in Burns Lake earlier this month, the matter was brought to the attention of caucus members by Village of Burns Lake Coun. John Illes.
Councillor Illes said that there is approximately 20,000 crossings made at the Augier Forest Service Rd. and Hwy. 16 intersection every year, but a lack of funding from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure has forced plans for a planned upgrade to be cancelled this year.
“It is a major safety issue,” he said.
Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad and caucus member said during the meeting that he is aware that work needs to be done, but that there is a possibility the project may not move forward this year.
Rustad explained that trucks turn in and out from Hwy. 16 but there is no left hand turning lane into the plant. “Augier Forest Service Rd. [upgrades] could also be used for Babine Forest Products,” he said, adding that he is aware that Pinnacle Pellet had paid a bond for the work to be done and that the ministry were required to pay the remainder of the funds for the upgrades.
Councillor Illes went on to say that he feels it is a significant safety issue especially during winter.
“It will cost $1.7 million to get the project finished,” Rustad added.
He also said that engineering work for the project has already been completed but that the ministry does not have the funding available for the road work to be completed this year. “We are now looking at next year.”
Last week Rustad spoke with Lakes District News, saying he is now hopeful that at least some of the road work can be completed this year.
“I am optimistic. There is still some logistics that the ministry is trying to work through before the window closes and winter is upon us,” he said adding that the logistics of the project are the problem, rather than funding.
“The last thing we want is to be tearing up the road and not be able to finish the work before the snow flies.”
According to Rustad, current access to Pinnacle Pellet is not a major safety concern, but he did say there has been a number of past issues whereby chip trucks turning into Babine Forest Products have been rear ended. He said the deceleration lane and work on the Augier Forest Service Rd. will help make the section of the road safer.
“It will improve the safety of the entire corridor. There is still a possibility that we might not get anything done, but it is also good to tie in multiple projects.”
Rustad referred to resurfacing work set to begin in early August starting at Hwy. 16 near Home Hardware in Burns Lake and extending 12 kilometres out of Burns Lake towards the pellet plant.
“Shoulders will be widened, resurfacing and paving …. a bunch of stuff. It’s great news.”
Lodge said he would prefer not to say to Lakes District News how much Pinnacle Pellet had paid for the upgrades, instead saying, “It is an amount of dollars associated with the building of a deceleration lane.”
He said he is still hopeful that the work can be completed this year, although he disagrees with the lack of a deceleration lane as being a significant safety issue.
“After we made a commitment to fund a deceleration lane, the ministry then wanted a more comprehensive option, which was over and above the Pinnacle Pellet involvement in a deceleration lane. They would integrate the Pinnacle Pellet work into their more comprehensive and grander work plans.”
Lodge said he understands that Pinnacle Pellet may have to hold off on the deceleration lane work until the ministry is able to fund their extended plan. “A piece meal job would not bring as good of a result in the end.”
“We would like to see the project advance and have the work done this year and are hoping that the funds are forth coming but if we were to proceed this year [without waiting for ministry funding] the dollars we put in would not be optimized. We would get a bigger bang for our buck if the work is all completed together,” he said.
Lodge said that Pinnacle Pellet fully intends to follow the recommendations of the ministry. “It makes more sense if we work together. The ministry is extremely helpful to work with. They have a cooperative spirit and I commend them for that.”