Vehicles left more or less decaying along the roadsides of Youbou are proving a persistent problem for community members intent on cleaning up the area’s image, one with no clear solution in sight.
The topic was raised at an Area I town hall meeting last month, with some residents voicing frustration that no action has been taken to compel owners to move their derelict vehicles off of the roadside.
Area I director Klaus Kuhn said he shares this frustration.
“It makes the town look awful,” he said, noting he has identified between 10 and 15 derelict vehicles around the streets of Youbou.
“If somebody has an old jalopy of a car sitting in the backyard somewhere and it’s not visible from the road, it’s not that big of an issue. But if you see the cars and they’re sitting on the side of the road — some of them haven’t been used in years — it’s not a pretty sight. And anybody who drives through there would say ‘Couldn’t they do anything about that?’”
And while Kuhn said he has received many complaints over the years, at present there is nothing he, as a director at the Cowichan Valley Regional District, can do about it.
Kuhn said that years ago he asked the CVRD to investigate the problem because he believed the vehicles were on private property and thus subject to the district’s bylaws prohibiting unused vehicles to be stored in that manner.
It turned out that was not the case.
“Most of these cars are sitting on the department of highways’ right-of-way,” said Kuhn.
Because Youbou is not a municipality, its roadways and road allowance on either side belong to the province and therefore are not subject to CVRD rules and regulations.
Ross Blackwell, district general manager of planning and development, described the situation as an example of “administration dysfunction” with the province’s Local Government Act, which he said does not provide regional district governments enough power to resolve such issues.
“Folks have to then prevail upon the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure to resolve the issues,” said Blackwell. “I’m sure they would love to address the issues of vehicles and road rights but, again I’m not speaking for them, but my assessment of it is unless it poses a risk to safety, it’s probably going to take the position of a low-priority issue.”
Blackwell said for now his advice to frustrated residents is to contact the province with their concerns if they would like to see vehicles removed from the roadsides.
“It’s that inadequacy of the [Local Government Act] that gives us tools within that context,” he said. “It just doesn’t give us the ability to deal with that.”
The RCMP does have the authority under the Motor Vehicle Act to remove abandoned and unregistered vehicles from the roadway, but according to Wes Olsen, RCMP detachment commander in Lake Cowichan, he and his officers tend not to interfere if a vehicle isn’t obstructing the flow of traffic.
“Unless it’s been abandoned, say we’re driving between [Lake Cowichan] and Duncan and a vehicle’s been somewhat abandoned on the shoulder of the roadway and it’s been there for a certain period of time,” he said.
“But if we’re talking like in around a residential area, say Youbou or Honeymoon Bay or even Lake Cowichan, if the vehicle’s not obstructing the drivability of the roadway we would normally not get involved.”
Olsen said the line between the buffer on either side of a street or roadway and a person’s front yard or private property isn’t always apparent.
“What happens is a lot of times people will use that buffer zone as their own thinking it’s theirs so they can do with it as they please, and that’s where you find some problems with parking of RVs, unregistered vehicles, boats, those kinds of things,” he said.
“Normally it’s not a big issue for us. We don’t get involved with proactive policing of those things because we don’t really consider it a police matter,” he said.
According to Olsen, the RCMP is more often called in to keep the peace while a solution is mediated because property owners are frequently unhappy about intervention from local or provincial governments.
In an email to the Gazette, Sonia Lowe, public affairs officer with MOTI, acknowledged that the ministry has the authority to remove abandoned vehicles on highways and the right-of-way.
“Ministry staff recently visited the area and did not identify any vehicles causing safety or maintenance concerns,” she said, responding to inquiries about the situation in Youbou.
“The ministry works collaboratively with local government and the RCMP to address concerns about abandoned vehicles when they arise and we look forward to any future discussions with them on this issue.”
For now, Kuhn said he plans to bring his concerns to the ministry again.
Kuhn has not tried speaking with property owners that have unused vehicles on the roadway because of a reaction he received when confronting a property owner directly during his first term as area director.
“One of the owners simply said, ‘Look this is my s—, leave me alone.’ It’s an attitude problem by some people,” he said.
“If we want to make this town a little more attractive, we’re going to have to do something.”