Plans to build a $1.7-million pedestrian bridge over Somenos Creek into the heart of the environmentally sensitive Somenos Marsh have been shelved.
After listening to a number of delegations against the project, and receiving recommendations from the public works committee to drop the project, North Cowichan’s council decided to vote against spending $85,000 on the design for the bridge in its budget for 2018 during a special budget meeting held on Nov. 27.
North Cowichan’s finance director Mark Frame said the original plan was for the design for the bridge to be completed in 2018, followed by construction in 2019.
“Some neighbours of the proposed bridge, as well as the Somenos Marsh Wildlife Society, didn’t want the project moving forward,” Frame said.
“It’s been cancelled for now, and probably for good. It was also a big project that would have seen lots of money from our [roads, cycling and sidewalks construction] budget going to it over the next two years, so council decided to vote against it.”
The plan was for the pedestrian bridge to be built from the York/Beverly street roundabout through the marsh to the Timbercrest subdivision.
Greg Gerbis, who said he was speaking for 11 neighbours of the marsh as well as himself, told council that the original cost estimates for the bridge when it was first proposed years ago was about $650,000.
He said the costs have risen astronomically since then, and questioned the expense.
“There are other things that this money can be spent on, including reducing taxes and improving North Cowichan’s water systems,” Gerbis said.
“This project has no upside for the community.”
The bridge was first proposed 25 years ago, and the Somenos Marsh Wildlife Society originally supported it to allow easier access to the marsh’s trail systems.
But society president Paul Fletcher said that support for the project has eroded.
He said the growing homeless issue in the Cowichan Valley was a major factor in the society pulling its support for the bridge.
“There was a great deal of public support for the bridge, but a lot of the residents in the marsh have become concerned that homeless people would cross over the Somenos Creek on the bridge and set up their camps in the Garry oak wood stand there,” Fletcher said.
“That would be disastrous for that ecosystem. I don’t see the society changing its position on the bridge until the homeless problem goes away, and I don’t think that will be for a long time.”