A popular recreation site near Terrace is in danger of being closed to the public if CN can’t find someone willing to take over the maintenance of its railroad crossing that provides access to the road leading to the site.
“If a crossing agreement is not in place by April 1, CN will close the crossing with a locked gate,” said CN spokesperson Emily Hamer last week, of the railway crossing located along Highway 16 about half-an-hour west of Terrace.
That railway crossing leads to a public road which then follows along the Exstew River into a provincial recreation site located on provincial crown land.
The well-used area has one of the largest waterfalls in the province, an 11-slip camping and picnic site, and plenty of opportunities for wildlife viewing, fishing, and rock climbing.
But public access could be cut off early this spring, warns a recently erected closure notice posted at the railroad crossing.
“The crossing at Exstew is actually a private crossing that intersects with a forest service road, which is under the jurisdiction of the province,” said Hamer, of the sign’s intention. “Currently CN is clarifying who will take responsibility for the maintenance of the private railway crossing.”
CN is mainly concerned with the maintenance of the approaches on either side of the crossing, she said, noting that could include things like snow removal.
“A road authority needs to take responsibility for the maintenance of the railway crossing,” she said.
To that end, CN has been in discussion with the provincial ministry of forests, lands, and natural resources for the last two to three months, confirmed the ministry.
But the ministry isn’t considering taking over the maintenance at this time because the road over the crossing is a road permit road, not a forest service road, said Greig Bethel, a public relations officer for the ministry.
“The road is the responsibility of the road permit holder, which in this case is Coast Tsimshian Resources LP,” he continued.
“If for some reason in the future Coast Tsimshian decides they no longer want that road permit, the ministry would look at options at that time.”
According to Coast Tsimshian Resources (CTR), which is owned by the Lax Kw’alaams First Nation, it might be time for the ministry to begin looking at options.
“As recreational access may be impacted by such a closure, CTR is hopeful that CN will seek an arrangement that will continue to keep this crossing open,” reads a press release sent out by CTR last Friday.
The company doesn’t intend to enter into an arrangement to maintain the road as it hasn’t needed the road in nearly five years.
“CTR has not needed this road permit since 2010,” explained CTR representative Dave Jackson, noting the company has no active logging permits that would require use of the road.
“CTR has no economic reason to keep the road permit open, but for goodwill we have maintained portions of the road for the past four years to allow continued public access to the forest service camp ground,” he said.
“Perhaps the forest service may wish to take over the crossing and then establish the road tenure as a [forest service road] to ensure the public has continued access.”
Skeena NDP MLA Robin Austin, whose office has been fielding complaints from concerned area residents, said someone needs to take responsibility for the crossing.
“They’re very upset because they’re people who have taken their families to use the park up there, the forestry park, and have been going for years and want to be able to continue to take their family members to that park,” he said, of the constituents he has heard from over the last two weeks.
“They’re very concerned that if the road is closed they’re going to have no access to what has been a very nice place to go in the summer.”
He has been working with North Coast NDP MLA Jennifer Rice to find out more details about the closure notice, and options going forward.
“I certainly believe that there can’t be a closure of this road without any sort of public consultation,” said Austin.