Washouts on several backcountry roads in the valley and other parts of the East Kootenay have been hampering access for recreational and commercial users for several weeks and may continue to do so for some time, possibly until next year.

The torrential rain and flooding that slammed Alberta and also hit the East Kootenay in late June rendered many forest service roads impassable, affecting more than 50 sites and 30 bridges across the region.

Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations engineers have made an initial estimate that the total repair bill may cost as much as $5.5 million. Damage in the Upper Columbia Valley is far less extensive than in the rest of the region.

“CanFor (which licenses some of the backcountry roads) is going to go ahead and do some fixing, around Whitetail Lake, for example. The ministry doesn’t have the money to fix some of these trunk roads. They say that PEP (provincial emergency program) may come in, but there’s a timeline delay on that,”  said Columbia River Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald, adding he’s learned the ministry only has a budget of $20,000 to deal with the problems.

“We’re telling the minister to do the work in a timely way if the money is coming in October or September,” said Mr. Macdonald.

But money is not the biggest obstacle at the moment, according to Rocky Mountain Forest District manager Ray Morello. The more pressing issue is the sheer volume of the work that needs to be done.

“We are using existing funding to get the assessments done and get as much work done as we can before the window of opportunity for this season ends,” said Mr. Morello. “Just the scope of this, with the number of bridges and pieces of road that will have to be addressed, that’s why it takes some time.”

The bulk of the resources will go to the southeastern part of the East Kootenay, where the road problems are more extensive and where more bridges are in worse shape or are gone altogether. The comparatively minor repairs in the Columbia Valley will have to wait a bit, according to Mr. Morello.

“The ministry is focusing on areas with the biggest damage,” he said. “The valley wasn’t hit as hard.”

Three forest roads in particular near Invermere were closed because of flooding-associated problems — Horsethief Creek Forest Service Road (FSR), Jumbo Pass road and Toby Creek road.

CanFor, which has a road permit on Horsethief Creek FSR and does some logging in the area, has already done the necessary repair work on that road and it is now open again.

The Toby Creek road is technically a public highway, and is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure. Until the Toby Creek road (currently closed just past Panorama) is opened, the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations can’t begin work to fix up the Jumbo Pass road, said Mr. Morello.

But repairing the Toby Creek road is a long process, involving a fair amount of paperwork and permits, said Ministry of Transportation operations manager Gord Chudleigh.

“It depends on the environmental window during which we can do work,” said Mr. Chudleigh. “There’s a different window of time for each creek.”

These windows of time, outside of which road construction work can’t be done, are in place to help protect aquatic wildlife, such as fish, that may be affected.

“We tell them what kind of work we want to do and then we have to wait for them to tell us when we can do it,” said Mr. Chudleigh.

The Jumbo Pass road was damaged by an avalanche earlier this past spring, a problem that typically would have been cleared up by summer, but with the flooding and now the lack of access, the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations just hasn’t been able to get to it.

“There’s a bit of work to do,” said Mr. Morello.

Creating a precise timeframe for which roads will be repaired and opened when is impossible at the moment, according to Mr. Morello.

“That’s pretty hard to say right now,” he said. “As soon as we have those assessments, we will start tendering the works.”

The great number of problems needing attention and the potential for winter to set in early in some locations mean it is entirely possible that not all repair will get done this summer. For a full list of backcountry closures check out www.for.gov.bc.ca/drm/services/road-works.htm.

— With files from Sally MacDonald/Daily Townsman