Coquihalla anniversary plaque cost $65,000

Transportation Minister Todd Stone, right, helps unveil a plaque commemorating the 30th anniversary of the completion of the Coquihalla Highway | Province of B.C.

A plaque that commemorates the 30th anniversary of the Coquihalla Highway cost taxpayers $65,000 and understates the number of people that worked on the project, according to documents released under Freedom of Information.

The plaque, unveiled May 25 at the Britton Creek rest area, names Premier Christy Clark and Transport Minister Todd Stone, but none of those who were originally involved in the project. The expenditure required an urgent internal approval memo and the plaque’s installers were imported from Edmonton at a premium.

Documents show that APS Architectural Precast Structures of Langley issued a $48,000 quote for the monument on April 6, but that did not include the bronze plaque or its delivery and installation. A day later, VSA Highway Maintenance estimated the total cost of the project would be $68,219.42. On April 25, the ministry issued an emergency/additional work approval for $65,000.

Planning was complicated by the 1 metre of snow on the site with banks in excess of 2 m. The plaque needed to be at least 3 m from the paved trail edge so as not to interfere with snow clearing in the winter, according to emails written by Shawn Clough, senior project manager, for the South Interior Region.

Installation was foreseen as early as May 10. The ministry settled on a May 26 unveiling date, but that was rescheduled for May 25 to accommodate federal officials. A May 9 email from Mike Lorimer, the ministry’s regional director for the Southern Interior, to communications director Ryan Jabs said, “Ryan, we can do this, however the crew to install the plaque has to travel from Edmonton to do the installation. They will have to travel over the [Victoria Day] long weekend to do this work so we will incur a cost premium, but it can be done.”

Documents indicate that the plaque subcontractor was Behrends Group, an Edmonton-based bronze signage specialist hired by the Queen’s Printer.

The plaque acknowledges “the hundreds of men and women who built this important connection.” But the provincial news release issued on May 25 said “over 10,000 workers contributed to the building of this project through some of the most challenging terrain in the province.”

The $848 million Fraser Valley-to-Okanagan highway was commemorated on the day it opened on May 16, 1986, with a plaque at Hope that named then-Premier Bill Bennett, Transport Minister Alex Fraser, MLA Tom Waterland and Hope Mayor Bud Gardner.

A connection to Kelowna opened four years later. Tolls were removed in 2008, in the lead-up to the 2009 provincial election.

Jordan Bateman, B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, called the 30th anniversary plaque a “silly waste of money.”

“We don’t need to be celebrating obscure anniversaries of public works projects,” Bateman said. “For the single mom scrimping and saving to pay taxes, to think that’s where her money went that should be a great embarrassment to the Liberal government.”

Clark did not attend the event, but Stone did. He was joined by former Social Credit cabinet minister Bud Smith, currently chairman of the B.C. Lottery Corp. Stone also announced $17.6 million for the Box Canyon chain-up and chain-off site, for a fall 2017 completion.