Residents along Tagish Road are concerned that clearing more trees along the road could make it unsafe and harm nearby habitat.
“What has been happening when they’ve cleared the highways to the 20-metre line is traffic speeds up,” said Theo Stad, who lives in the Crag Lake area. “That is our number one concern. This is a residential area. There’s 13 homes here, 13 homes packed into less than a kilometre. There’s kids. We walk the roads.”
The Yukon government announced a program in April that seeks to improve safety and preserve assets. Part of it includes clearing brush.
But some residents think the Department of Highways and Public Works is clearing too much by increasing the cleared area to 20 metres from 10 metres.
Minister Richard Mostyn said he’s sympathetic to concerns but that it’s his responsibility to ensure the safety of drivers.
He said the Yukon has a poor road safety record, noting that it has the second highest fatality rate in the country.
The reason why roadsides are being cleared, Mostyn said, is because it enables drivers to see greater distances.
“There’s no denying that the brush clearing we’re undertaking in the territory improves the safety of our highways,” he said. “There’s no doubt about that. These are standards established nationally. We’re bringing predictability and consistency and doing the entire 5,000 kilometres of highways in the territory and that is going to improve safety.”
He said reducing clearing to 15 metres from the original 20 metres in the Crag Lake area is what his department is recommending. Mostyn said that’s the minimal acceptable distance.
“I believe it’s where we’ll go in the Crag Lake area.”
Stad said clearing has been set at 10 metres for 50 years without any problems. And the community wants to keep it that way, he said.
“This particular area, you know, it’s not broken, so don’t fix it.”
He said roughly four kilometres in the area haven’t been touched yet.
For Anne Middler, a part-time resident of Tagish, it’s the potential impact on the environment that worries her.
A portion of Tagish Road is close to the Tagish River Habitat Protection Area, she said.
“If the highway right of way was cleared in this area … I believe it would exacerbate existing erosion and ultimately I feel that it could undermine the road itself. Whether or not it is officially considered within the habitat protection area itself it’s immediately adjacent to it and it’s providing a very important habitat buffer for birds and other animals.”
She said if the 20-metre clearing plan is to go ahead, she’s concerned most of the trees would be removed.
“The remaining trees would suffer from blow down. All of those trees, in my view, are integral to maintaining the stability of that high bank.”
Mostyn said engineers were sent out to this stretch of road to make assessments.
“They have done that. I haven’t seen the report there … but I will be getting briefed on that. The bottom line is I am taking that into consideration.”
Contact Julien Gignac at firstname.lastname@example.org