A group of homeowners who live on New Lake Road west of Cranbrook have reached a level of frustration that may compel them to take direct action.
The portion of New Lake Road that extends from where the pavement ends to the lake crosses private property in three places. It is unpaved, non-status, and not maintained by any government agency or sub-contractor.
But as the only way into New Lake, the dirt road sees an inordinate amount of traffic. New Lake, which is stocked by the Department of Fisheries, sees year-round fishing traffic. But the heavy traffic doesn’t just include vehicles hauling boats to the lake. Members of the public also take snowmobiles, quads and dirt-bikes on the road. Hunters also use New Lake Road for access to additional areas.
This heavy usage throughout the year causes considerable deterioration, which the homeowners must repair at their own expense, whether it is grading, plowing or hauling in gravel. The homeowners estimate that the cost of maintenance and repair runs to more than $10,000 a year.
“Damage this spring has already rendered parts of the road impassable, so much so, our neighbours have had to park on our property and access their property through ours,” said Kelly Hughston-Bulmer, one of the property owners.
Earlier this spring the RCMP had put up police tape, and the property owners themselves had placed a road closed sign at an especially wet and muddy section of the road, to prevent drivers from getting stuck and doing more road damage. One of the neighbours, Darlene Wilson, said that recreationists simply tore down the tape, threw the sign in the bush and tried to cross anyway, which resulted in vehicles getting deeply stuck.
“We want the public to continue to have access, as they have in the past,” Hughston-Bulmer said. “But we want them to understand that this increased usage equals increased costs. I don’t think they realize they’re crossing private property and that no government agency maintains the road.”
The RCMP told the homeowners they were within their rights to put up a gate, or otherwise restrict access across their property. But all agree this option is a last resort.
Hughston-Bulmer said everyone was under the impression it was a Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure tenured road. However, when the property owners took their concerns to MOTI, it turned out that the tenure belonged to a road that does not form part of New Lake, and which decades earlier had gone around the other side of two properties. Therefore, the road the public now uses to access New Lake and area exists in a kind of limbo.
“We’re not asking to build up the road, or have it upgraded to higher standards — just to have it graded in summer and plowed in winter,” Wilson said.
The property owners have had meetings with representatives of the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations and the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure. But no one seems to want to take ownership of the road. Forestry will only do partial maintenance during active times for harvest activities.
“They (the MOTI) agreed they would survey the road but not upgrade or maintain it,” Wilson said. “We would have to agree to give them that portion of our properties where the road crosses, with no compensation and we, the owners, would still be responsible for all maintenance.”
Wilson added that they were aware of several other much more remote roads that are maintained by the Ministry of Transportation.
At the moment, that is where the issue stands between the property owners and the MOTI. But the damage to the road continues, with vehicles getting stuck on a daily basis in the spring mud. Wilson said the owners are already preparing to have loads of gravel brought in to repair the road.
“We don’t want to block off the road at all, but it’s getting to the point where it may be the only option.” Wilson said. “We can’t go on paying these maintenance costs.”
“We enjoy living here, we live here for a reason,” Hughston-Bulmer said. “We want the public to enjoy it too, but we are really asking the public for some understanding and support.”
They said they are hoping the residents of Cranbrook and area will raise some concerns, “so we can all access this beautiful area without damaging our vehicles and release the property owners from the maintenance costs of what is basically a public road.”
As of press time, representatives of the MOTI were unavailable for comment.