Longtime Saanich resident Melanie Pereira’s reaction to provincial plans to mitigate the impact of the McKenzie interchange project on nearby Cuthbert Holmes Park was written all over her face.
“Oh God, I was just in tears,” said Periera, one of about 50 people who attended a three-hour information session at St. Joseph the Worker church hall hosted by the B.C. Ministry of Transportation.
“It doesn’t look nice,” she said. “It looks like a parking lot with a patch of grass. I really don’t think people are going to bring their families for a picnic there.”
The province is spending $85 million at McKenzie and Admirals Road to improve traffic flow. But there are no estimates for work on the park because the plan by an independent biologist is still being worked on, said the ministry.
The work will include a 500-metre-long berm rising up to 14 metres, topped by trees, to block highway noise and the sight of vehicles racing past.
Replacement of trees and greenery, removal of invasive species, new trails, two lookouts and a $450,000 payment to Saanich are among other commitments.
The controversial quarter-cloverleaf interchange carves 1.4 hectares from the 25.6-hectare park.
Last May, Saanich councillors voted 6-3 to ask the province to reconsider the cloverleaf plan due to its damaging effects on the urban wilderness park. But Mayor Richard Atwell said the cloverleaf option chosen by the province offers a chance to enhance the park, given that nearly 20 per cent of the space lost to the interchange project was a parking lot.
Ministry plans call for a main trail along the park side of the berm to be joined by two more trails to lookouts with 360-degree views.
Marie Farmer, who has lived on nearby Obed Avenue for nearly 30 years, said she already hears a lot of noise, something she said the trees taken down during construction once masked.
“My perception is they’ve taken a lot more of Cuthbert Holmes than necessary.”
The ministry said it is unable to estimate how many trees, and of what variety and age, were removed until the mitigation plan is complete. “Shouldn’t they have known what was there before they made the decision on the cloverleaf?” asked Julian Anderson, lead steward of the Friends of Cuthbert Holmes Park.
“We’re trying to make a best of a bad situation.”
The park portion of the berm is to be constructed in the summer of 2018, but only if Saanich decides to allow the province to work within the boundaries of Cuthbert Holmes. The rest of the berm would be on ministry right-of-way.
The ministry confirmed Tuesday that there will be at least 30-metre setbacks from the Colquitz River and its side channel for berm or other construction.
Another concern is the likelihood for invasive species to colonize the berm once the highway is complete, Anderson said. Soil scraped off the surface of the park land and right-of-way includes hawthorn, gorse and Himalayan blackberry, all of which will be within the top layer of the the berm, but take years to appear.
Anderson would like the ministry to fund the eradication of invasive species on the berm for at least five years after completion of the interchange, suggesting that a two-person crew working one week a year would cost “a drop in the bucket in an $85-million budget.”