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Trailhead and Parking Closures Continue

Decision to be Reviewed at September 5 Meeting

After listening to presentations from two experts at a special meeting Thursday evening, Council voted that trailheads and parking will continue to remain closed in the village until the middle of next week at the earliest.

Speakers at the meeting included Phil Folkersen, Emergency Program Coordinator, and Barret Germscheid, Lions Bay's Fire Chief. Brant Arnold-Smith, Program Manager of Security & Emergency Management with Metro Vancouver had been scheduled to also speak, but was unable to attend.

Instead, Folkersen spoke on his behalf, noting that the Metro Program manager had "felt that council had made the right decision at the time, given the conditions in the forest," with regard to the initial decision to close the trailheads. Folkersen added that he too had agreed with the decision at the time. However, he said that after learning that Metro Vancouver's policy is to not proactively close trails, unless in case of actual fire or flood, "I feel that making a decision to close the trails needs to be along set parameters. It should not be a political decision, but an operational one," he said. "It's got to be based on public safety risks and not perception."

Responding to Councillor Neville Abbott's concerns about the high fire rating in Metro Vancouver's North Shore Parks, Folkersen said he'd been given different information in a report from Arnold-Smith. "I can't tell you whether we should or whether we shouldn't. I can tell you the optics won't look good if we don't open. We need to really be clear on the criteria we use, and the reasons why."

Germscheid acknowledged that hikers numbers are up, and that there are other ramifications to consider, including water issues. But he is not in favour of closing the trails. "The hikers and back country enthusiasts – they turn in way more fires than they ever start."

Germscheid spent some time explaining the different types of fire risks faced by a village community in a forest, and noted that while fires in the village boundaries would utilize local water reserves, wildland fires higher on the mountain or away from structures are not fought using "domestic water." He made reference to a risk determination standard used by firefighters, stating that if it is over 30 degrees celcius, with a humidity under 30%, it is hot and dry enough to mean a high fire risk. In terms of whether this was enough to warrent shutting down trail access, "I'm speaking just as the fire chief, not as a politician," he said. "But I don't think we were there."

Councillor Michael Broughton made a point of noting that the decision to close parking and trail access was not 'political', which was echoed by other councillors. "It's not about being popular," said Councillor Jaime Cunliffe. "It's about safety." Both Cunliffe and Councillor Marcus Reuter noted that other Metro municipalities have protected watersheds, something that isn't true for Lions Bay.

Reaction from residents at the meeting was mostly supportive of Council's decision. Before the discussion, both Gail Craig and Betty Birrell thanked Council for closing down parking and trail access, with Craig also lauding Public Works for their quick and efficient action. Online, resident Tamara Legere also supported Council's decision. "It's really dry up here," she said, speaking from the forest behind her house. "I don't think this weekend is the time to open up."

Former Fire Chief Fred Bain stepped forward to note that whatever decision was made, it is never an exact science. He also emphasized the importance of communication, and how all members of council and operational staff need to be included in any emergency.

Online, Tom Caspersen expressed his concern that the discussion seemed centred on trails, with little mention of the watershed above the Village. "It's important to note that in Vancouver, all the reservoirs are closed (to public access), and specifically fire is mentioned as a concern as to why they have been." He noted the vulnerability of the watershed above the village. "How much salt water can we dump in those creeks? How much fire retardant, or burnt ash, or broken rock can go into those creeks and not compromise our water?"

In stark contrast, resident Ehsan Monfared expressed his displeasure with the decision, saying that it was nothing other "than NiMBYism cast as 'we're worried about fire, we're worried about water supply'." The final speaker was Tamara Legere, reiterating her support for the trailhead closures, and requesting Council finalize a long-awaited evacuation plan for the village.

Council's decision was released as a brief statement in the September 1 Village Update. "Current measures to limit the number of hikers on trails in and around the village will remain in place. The decision will be reassessed at regular Council meetings beginning on Tuesday next week."

The next Council meeting will be held September 5, with the public portion beginning at 7 p.m.

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Good coverage. Thanks Karen. I personally feel quite embarrassed by this decision and don‘t understand why the councillors didn‘t take the Fire Chief’s advice.

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Yes, I’ve watched the video closely and still don’t understand why they didn’t take his advice.

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