Colwood plans to ask residents to decide the fate of the aging and ailing Esquimalt Lagoon bridge — eventually.
At a Jan. 9 council meeting, council agreed to start planning a referendum question, regarding whether or not to invest public money into saving the bridge, for at the next municipal election in three years.
Coun. Teresa Harvey proposed the referendum and said, while the next election is a long way off, it will give council time to educate the public on the complexities of maintaining the bridge over the long term.
“If we can lay out the options and the cost on a referendum, people can make an informed decision,” Harvey said. “Ultimately we need to ask the public if they want to spend money on this.”
In the meantime, council stayed the course of its predecessor, advising City staff to make no increase to the maintenance budget for the Lagoon bridge.
Given this, Colwood engineering director Michael Baxter said the bridge might not last until the next election.
Piles that form the foundation of the 80-year-old timber trestle are rotting and being consumed by shipworms. Land under the north and south approaches is being eroded away.
The next scheduled structural evaluation for the bridge is in 2013, and Baxter said that’s likely to result in load restrictions, either barring vehicles from the bridge or limiting traffic to one lane.
The cost to rehabilitate the bridge is estimated at $750,000, but there are bigger problem facing the Coburg peninsula.
A heavy storm at high tide could generate waves that cut through the peninsula and make travel along Ocean Boulevard, a popular commuter route, impossible.
“This could happen tomorrow or two years from now, we can’t predict these things,” Baxter said.
Strong storms have already been known to throw logs onto the road, and wave activity will increase as sea level rises.
“I wouldn’t bet on there still being a peninsula there in 50 years,” said Coun. Judith Cullington, noting that most large capital investments in infrastructure should last longer than that.
The last consultant report the City received on the lagoon was from Seabulk Systems in 2008. It offered multi-million dollar options to protect the Coburg peninsula from wave damage.
The City could spend $2 million every five to 10 years replenishing the beach with sand or build small breakwaters called groynes to stop the sediment from migrating down the shore for $5 million to $12 million, depending on the design.
The previous council deemed these costs unreasonable, and this council made no move to further explore those options.
Public consultation in 2010, prior to a temporary closure of the Lagoon bridge for improvements to the north approach, found no clear opinion on whether residents wanted the bridge to remain open — a third of respondents wanted the bridge open, a third wanted it closed and a third wanted the City to decide.
The future of Coburg Peninsula has been in jeopardy since the Royal Bay gravel mine closed in 2007, bringing an end to the supply of sediment that originally built up the sand spit.