Highway 7 now open to those stranded in Hope and emergency vehicles

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said there was 'unnecessary congestion' after the highway reopened Tuesday night

By Joti Grewal | November 17, 2021 |3:21 pm

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Highway 7 has reopened to some traffic, but most people stranded in the Fraser Valley still won’t be able to use the only east-west highway link in the region.

Crews have temporarily reopened Highway 7 between Agassiz and Hope to passenger vehicles westbound traffic, the Ministry of Transportation said late Wednesday afternoon.

Following the evacuation of those stranded in Hope, Highway 7 will close again between Agassiz and Hope for crews to continue work on the highway.

Earlier, Minister of Transportation Rob Fleming confirmed Highway 7, west of Agassiz over Mt. Woodside, had reopened. Single-lane alternating traffic is now available for emergency vehicles only. The province’s road maintenance contractor delivered 40,000 sandbags to the Barrowtown Pump Station Tuesday night via Highway 7, where Fleming said “there was some unnecessary congestion last night.”

DriveBC says the highway is open to “essential travel” over Mt. Woodside, prompting some valley residents to use the road to access the rest of the Lower Mainland. Ministry of Transportation communications staff could not clarify specifically what “essential travel” meant, and directed the Current to the Ministry of Public Safety.

Highway 1 remains closed; officials did not provide an update on when it will reopen. Access to Hope on Highway 7 will be made available to emergency vehicles later Wednesday, Fleming added, emphasizing the general public should not try and access this route.

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But some trying to access the roads to provide essential services say they need more information about the transportation situation.

Chris Les, general manager at Metal Valley Meats, said his crew were some of the people trying to access the road to get essential goods to Chilliwack.

“From my standpoint and from others I’ve talked to in the industry, what we’re looking for is consistency and clarity in terms of communication from the government on this, and ideally if it’s going to be, very limited access through that corridor that could be restricted or prioritized for the essentials,” he told the Current.

Les said he and other commercial truck drivers delivering food, fuel and animal feed at times were being turned away, while others were being let through.

“We were just hearing all sorts of mixed messages from the government in terms of what is the plan for it and for whether or not you can get through there or not,” Les said before the province announced the highway was reopened.

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Those stranded in Hope are also awaiting news about highway access. Fleming said the ministry’s priority remains clearing Highway 7 to restore connectivity to Hope and they province will provide an update at a later date.

The re-opening of that highway means essential items like animal feed can be delivered, something Agriculture Minister Lana Popham said will be important for the animals who did survive the weather.

She confirmed hundreds of farms have been affected by the floods, and thousands of animals have died. “We’re seeing an animal welfare issue develop.”

Popham said the priority now is to develop routes to allow veterinarians access to farms and the animals. She admitted some of the animals who did survive will need to be euthanized.

“We will make sure disaster relief funds are available for farmers and we’re supporting them every step of the way,” she added.

Popham also thanked the Alberta and Saskatchewan government’s for their support by offering lab services after the Agricultural Animal and Health Lab in the valley flooded. The facility is responsible for disease testing, as well as testing milk.

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Premier John Horgan also declared a provincial state of emergency.

“We will bring in travel restrictions and ensure that the transportation of essential goods and the medical and emergency services are able to reach the communities that need them,” Horgan said. “Please do not hoard items: what you need your neighbours need as well.”

The province thanked CN Rail for moving people and goods by air while track maintenance is underway, and the BC Trucking Association for continuing to transport goods through routes in the U.S.

Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth said the order may include measures that prohibit non-essential travel, and prevent hoarding and price gouging. He said he has been in contact with federal minister Bill Blair about accessing further support. Canadian Armed Forces are expected to be deployed by ground and air, but Farnworth did not provide a timeline.

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Joti Grewal

Reporter at Fraser Valley Current

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