The $47 million Vye Road and Highway 11 widening project in Abbotsford has been delayed for an unknown time due to a recent archeological discovery.
The Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD) – whose archeology branch protects such sites – says the nature of the discovery and its exact location cannot be revealed.
“We are limited in what specific information we can provide about the find. Archeological information is considered highly sensitive and not placed in the public domain due to the risk that its disclosure may result in damage to archeological sites,” a FLNRORD spokesperson stated.
Construction on the project was supposed to be well underway at this point.
Road signs and information on the City of Abbotsford website previously indicated that Vye Road between Highway 11 and Riverside Road would be closed from June 14, 2021 to Nov. 30, 2022 and detours would be in effect.
But updated information on the city website stated that the project had been delayed. The roads signs have since been covered.
The Abbotsford News on Thursday (Aug. 5) asked for the reason for the delay, and city spokesperson Aletta Vanderheyden stated that “previously undocumented archeological materials were identified” in the area. The city website has since been updated with that information.
“The City of Abbotsford was notified of the findings on June 24, 2021, and work on the project was immediately stopped,” she said.
Vanderheyden said future construction on the project will proceed under the recommendations of a “registered professional consulting” archeologist.
“We value our relationship with Indigenous communities and want to ensure our activities respect their long-standing care and stewardship of these lands,” she said.
The FLNORD spokesperson said the site was discovered in March during archeological monitoring of BC Hydro’s pole maintenance activity in the area and that it “overlaps” road resurfacing.
Archeological sites in B.C. are protected under the provisions of the Heritage Conservation Act (HCA). A permit under the HCA is required to alter a site.
The FLNORD spokesperson confirmed that a professional archeological firm has been hired to apply for the appropriate HCA permits.
“All HCA permits are subject to consultation with affected First Nations,” he said.
The spokesman said, depending on what is found at a site, further archeological study might be required before applying for an HCA permit.
He said approving a permit is based on several factors, including the nature and significance of the site, the impacts of any proposed mitigation measures, and feedback from First Nations on whose territory the site is located – in this case, the Sumas First Nation.
The News has reached out to Sumas First Nation for comment and is expected to hear back sometime today (Aug. 11).
The road project would see a 1.3-kilometre widening of Highway 11 to extend the Nexus land from south of Vye Road to the U.S. border and the building of a two-lane overpass on Vye Road between Highway 11 and Riverside Road over the railway lines.
It also includes safety improvements to the Fourth Avenue at-grade railway crossing west of Highway 11.
When the project was first announced in 2013, the cost was estimated at $25 million – to be split equally between the city and the federal and provincial governments.
The budget has continued to increase over the years, and is now up to $46.7 million, with the city paying $19.25 million. (That amount includes $11 million from gas tax money that the city receives from senior levels of government for infrastructure projects, $6.5 million from the city’s reserves and $1.45 million from the Southern Railway of BC.)
The province will chip in $18.5 million, Canadian Pacific Railway will contribute $600,000, and the federal government will chip in $8.3 million.