Frustrated residents plead for temporary culvert on Oak Hill Road detour

Submitted photo A spot on the Oak Hill Road detour.

ST. STEPHEN – Frustrations are rising just outside the town of St. Stephen.

Residents on Oak Hill Road (Route 745) say a detour effecting their everyday lives could be temporarily fixed in a day or two, allowing them to avoid a dangerous route.

“It’s just not fair, people are struggling,” said resident Karen Olmstead.

With repairs anticipated to take four months, the dug up dirt and pavement on Oak Hill Road has forced residents, tourists, and anyone passing through to take an alternative route to town, which frequent travelers of the road say is unsafe.

Sharp 90 degree turns, limited visibility, increased wildlife traffic, and poor road conditions have detour users worried for themselves, and their vehicles.

“For a country road, it isn’t the worst. But the curviness, the turns, are dangerous. You can’t see ahead … it’s especially dangerous at night,” said Olmstead.

A drive to town, one that she has done her entire life, used to typically take Olmstead 25 minutes. Now, that trip has turned into a 45-minute commute. After seeing more deer than usual and having an increased flow of traffic along the detour, she says she must drive with heightened caution to be safe. With the continuous increases in the price of gas, residents are struggling to keep up with the additional travel.

In an email to the Courier, St. Croix MLA Kathy Bockus said the cost of replacing the culvert requires the Department of Transportation and Industry (DTI) to issue a tender for the work.

“DTI must also apply for a watercourse and wetland alteration permit because the work is within 30 metres of the Green Brown Brook,” said Bockus in her email. “The culvert replacement and construction activities would have an impact on this watercourse.”

Olmstead feels decisions being made in another part of the province are part of the delay.

“The power to make decisions about the culvert or people involved seems to have been given to consultant engineers in Saint John and Fredericton,” she said. “If anyone making these decisions had to drive the detour, something would have already been done. It’s not local hands to blame.”

Not only do locals say the detour is dangerous, but that the signage is confusing. Some residents who have lived in the area most of their lives have gotten turned around.

Concern for emergency vehicles has also been raised.

“If they miss a turn because of the confusing signs, it makes a difference,” said lifetime resident Liz Cook.

Cook has lived on her land for 85 years. Since her property is right next to the detour, she often sees tourists stop at the end of her driveway.

“There was one couple that was so bewildered at the sign,” she said.

Having lived on the 80-hectare property the Green Brown Brook runs through, Cook is very familiar with the waterway.

“My parents didn’t even worry about me playing in that water as a child, because it’s just a little brook. It just doesn’t fill up with water. It boggles my mind why they need a fishway in that little brook, there isn’t enough water for fish,” she said. “There’s a trickle of water, sure, but it dries up every summer.”

Cook was approached about the possibility of building a fishpond on her property for any potential fish that could swim down the brook. She is still waiting to receive the letter in need of her signature to go through with that project.

“If I get the letter, I’ll sign it,” she said.

Bockus says she hopes to have an update in the coming weeks, but right now, action seems unlikely to happen sooner than the end of July.

“Because of the concerns expressed by residents regarding the length of the detour and the impact it could present for emergency responses by fire and ambulance, I’ve requested DTI and Environment prioritize any and all necessary work to get this project completed,” said Bockus. “Because of the scope of the work, the expected completion date – barring any complications with the tender or watercourse permit – is the end of July. The detour will remain in place until then.”

The community pleas for a temporary culvert that would allow use of the road to continue.

“Of course, we care about the environment,” said Olmstead.

However, locals say regulations for the environment don’t apply here.

Residents are now worrying the work could be delayed past the current end of July estimate.

“Not having an accident with traffic would be a miracle. I can’t see them getting it fixed before winter, and that’s really frightening,” said Cook.