In an abrupt change of course, the B.C. Environment Ministry has agreed to take action to close the first parking lot gate at Sooke Potholes Provincial Park.
The move comes after questions were raised by Juan de Fuca Electoral Area director Mike Hicks and other members of the community after it was discovered that the gate on Sooke River Road that would have restricted access to the Sooke Potholes Provincial Park hadnot been closed.
This flew in the face of the stated policy of the ministry is to restrict overnight access to parks.
“I guess that the media coverage drew their attention to the issue and I got a call from the premier about it today at 9:30 a.m.,” Hicks said.
“I asked for a call from the deputy minister and we exchanged information about the situation, looking for a solution.”
It was only a week ago that Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and Anthony (A.J.) Jensen, all 20, died when, sometime after 11 p.m., when their pickup truck was engulfed in water during unprecedented flooding near the lower parking lot of the Sooke Potholes on Jan. 31.
They were only able to access that point by virtue of the gate having been left ajar, a situation that had apparently been true for several years as attested to by the growth of bushes over the gate in question.
“I was in contact with the Ministry and gave them information on the contractor that closes the CRD gate, on the same road on the other side of the park, and they have now hired our contractor, Shadow West Security, to man their gate as well,” said Hicks.
In a strange twist to the story, however, the ministry had also discovered that the gate was not located inside the park boundary, but rather was located on municipal land.
“Nobody knew that. It was always assumed that the gate was inside the park and I think even the ministry was surprised that it was not,” said Sooke Mayor Maja Tait.
When contacted by the ministry, Tait was quick to sign a letter granting the jurisdiction of the gate to the Ministry of Environment.
“We’re just really grateful to Mike Hicks for doing all the heavy lifting on this issue. He’s really the one that made this happen,” Tait said.
Prior to today, the Ministry of Environment had responded to questions about whether they would be reviewing their policies on ensuring that the Sooke Potholes Provincial Park was closed, particularly during hazardous conditions, by stating that they were waiting on the outcome of the B.C. Coroners report.
In a written statement they said:
“The B.C. Coroners Service is investigating and we await their report. Should any recommendations call on the provincial government to make changes in policy and approach, we will do everything possible to prevent this from ever happening again.”
That response resulted in an outcry from the community, with many people commenting on social media that immediate action was required.
“I’m very happy that we’ve been able to make this happen,” Hicks said.
“It goes to show you what we can accomplish when we work together to address a problem.”