Life returning to normal in the Similkameen

After the slide, life returns to normal after three day closure of valley's lifeline - Highway 3

 

Probably no one was more pleased than residents of the Similkameen Valley  to hear the news that Highway 3 was reopened on Thursday, January 30 after being shut down due to a rock slide.

Similkameen  Elementary Secondary School students, staff and parents worked together to find detours around the January 27 rockslide that shut down Highway 3 between Hedley and Keremeos.

Twenty-one students were affected by the slide, having no bus service and a long, difficult detour up Nickle Plate Mountain for parents willing to make a daily commute between the two communities.

SESS Principal Cate Turner said initially there was some chaos last Monday, when the road was declared closed, but by 3:15 p.m. all parents affected had been notified and alternative arrangements made for the students at school.

“It wasn’t that bad – everyone pitched in,” she said, adding some students stayed in Keremeos with family or friends, while others made the trip over Nickle  Plate.

Complicating matters later in the week came a heavy snowfall on Wednesday morning. Both natural events conspired to make it difficult for some students to make it to school during what turns out to be a crucial week, as exams were being written by senior students every day.

Students affected by the slide who needed to write Provincial exams were able to  do so in Princeton, Turner said, adding Princeton school had been very cooperative during the road closure.

A delegation of Upper Similkameen politicians attending a water conference in Duncan spent the afternoon of January 29 trying to decide which route to use to return to Princeton prior to their flight back to Penticton later that day.

Several other residents faced similar dilemmas when it came to getting to and from their jobs in the Similkameen.

Tammy Hartfield and Sandy Nolan split their week between offices in Keremeos and Princeton. On January 27, both woman had their 45 minute commutes extend to three hours as the two were forced to take the Princeton-Summerland road back.

“The first half was okay,” said Hartfield, “it was paved. The last part into Summerland was icy, rough and slow.”

Phaedra Seaman who works in Keremeos, commutes daily from Hedley. Since Monday, she made her way back and forth over the Nickle Plate.

“It was pretty slippery, and narrow,” she said of her trip home Monday evening after the slide.  Seaman also said that eastbound traffic made for some very narrow road conditions, especially on the mulitiple switchbacks lacing the back side of the mountain route.

Aaron Beauchamp depot manager for Greyhound Bus Lines, said the morning bus had been arriving around the normally scheduled time since the slide, but afternoon service was reduced to an “as needed” basis.

“The afternoon bus only came if there were passengersbooked ahead of time,” he said. The bus picked up passengers in Keremeos, then drove to Penticton, where passengers were routed through the Coquihalla to the coast.

Tammy Vesper of Vesper Transport in Cawston said the slide proved to be a big headache to their trucking business.

“We have had five trucks sitting all week, because we haul out of Princeton Wood Products and other post mills in the area.

“The mills were getting backed up, too.

“It’s not worth us going all the way around.  So we sat. One truck was in Vanouver at the time, but he came home via the connector.”

Jeff Berg of Berg’s Ox Yoke collectables store on Seventh Avenue was glad to see the end of the road closure on Thursday evening.

“Even this time of year there are tourists and people stopping for  a break on their way through the village,” he said. “This week has been really quiet.”

There was one entourage that spent time in Keremeos through last week, and their primary reason for being in the area was centred around the slide.

Film crew members from the Discovery Channel television series Highway Thru Hell spent several days in the area, filming the slide for an episode to be run in November.

Through traffic in Keremeos was noticeably diminished by the slide, with only  sporadic local traffic in the village’s main street for most of the week.

Perhaps that was the  only silver lining in the slide’s aftermath – a noticeable reduction in truck traffic through the downtown core.

 

By Friday morning, however, it was a rapidly fading memory, as business as usual returned to Keremeos’ main street.