By Vivian Moreau and Andrew Mitchell
Thousands of tonnes of highway construction machinery could grind to a halt again in the Eagleridge Bluffs area outside of Horseshoe Bay.
And it could all be because of a rare bird less than 15 cm long from the tip of its beak to the end of its tail feathers.
Over the weekend the Eagleridge Environmental Stewardship Alliance found an active nest belonging to the Cassins vireo, which makes its home in mixed deciduous and coniferous forests. According to the Coalition to Save Eagleridge Bluffs, the nest is right in the path of the highway realignment.
If the find is confirmed by scientists, federal laws could delay construction in the area until the end of the nesting season.
This would not be the first time that highway has been delayed by a bird. Last year residents held up blasting in one area near Eagleridge Bluffs because of the belief there were nesting eagles nearby. After about a week a photographer used a bucket and crane to look directly into the nest and discovered that it was empty of eggs and egrets.
The latest find comes after a tense week of standoffs between protesters that are against the realignment of the Sea to Sky highway through the Eagleridge Bluffs area. Many of the protesters are West Vancouver residents who wanted a tunnel under the area, due to noise and traffic concerns as well as concern for a wetland in the bluffs.
Last week the B.C. Court of Appeals upheld an injunction to remove protesters from the construction area. The following day RCMP carried out an enforcement order and removed protesters.
On Thursday, May 25 police arrested 23 at the site after they refused to leave. Those arrested may face charges for violating a court order.
If the bird doesnt halt construction, the coalition is hopeful that they will have another chance to overturn the original injunction against protesters, which was sought by the construction consortium involved in upgrading the highway.
On Tuesday, May 30, the Coalition to Save Eagleridge Bluffs was granted another opportunity to make an appeal to a tribunal consisting of three judges. The appearance date is still two weeks away, however, and unless roadwork is stayed by the nest discovery the highway construction will continue during that period. All logging is expected to be completed in that time. The injunction against protesters will also remain in effect.
The coalition is asking the contractor to stop work until the appeal can be decided, and is applying for an injunction against the work crews.
According to Dennis Perry, a spokesperson for the coalition, timing is everything.
"(We are) pleading with the government to come out and stop this," he said. "With loggers not to go in, with just an answer from this government regarding our very strong request to the legislature for a 60-day cooling off period. We have heard absolutely nothing, stonewalled, just the way weve been stonewalled by (Transportation Minister) Kevin Falcon for the last two years."
The coalition plans to host a media conference on Thursday to discuss the issue, and possible alternatives to the highway realignment through the bluffs.
David Rudd, 74, a long-time resident of nearby Garrow Bay, feels the government isnt playing straight with residents.
"There is an economical route to get to Whistler, cheaper than the (proposed) highway and the government wont release these figures for us, wont tell us the true figures," he said.
Rudd believes that the route was chosen specifically to provide access to a private area of land slated for development, rather than as the best alternative. The coalition would like to see a four-lane, 4 km tunnel or the addition of a third lane to the existing highway.
Joan McIntyre, the MLA for the West Vancouver-Garibaldi riding, says the coalition is actively spreading misinformation about the project, including the cost of building a tunnel.
"Its very frustrating from my perspective, the misinformation for that group is staggering," she said. "Theyve accused the (transportation) minister of lying (and) confused the public on a number of issues.
"The options have been looked at. I could never justify spending a third of the budget on the first kilometre in West Vancouver. A four-lane tunnel was never in the cards."
Adding an extra lane was also looked at, but rejected because it didnt meet Canadian standards for safety and would result in long highway closures.
"Those people may not mind about the highway but I represent the 15,000 people that ride that highway daily," said McIntyre.