Driver blames signage for Cow Bay swamping

Stuart Wilson and his dog are rescued. from a flooded road Sunday. - Andrew Leong/file
Stuart Wilson and his dog are rescued. from a flooded road Sunday.
— image credit: Andrew Leong/file

Stuart Wilson found out the hard way Cowichan Bay Road should be avoided during all rainstorms.

He’s now facing expensive repairs to the electronics of his 1993 GMC Safari van that was among three vehicles swamped when drivers tried to sail along the roadway that’s notorious for flooding.

The bay resident, and self-described careful driver, admitted he’s familiar with various flood-warning signs dotting the stretch between the Island Highway and the lawn-tennis club.

But on Sunday, he saw no reason to take a different route to the bay after a church service at around 11 a.m.

“There were no signs when I arrived (at the highway’s west turn),” he said “or I certainly wouldn’t have gone through — that would be stupid.”

Or just not paying enough attention, said Leon Bohmer, operations manager of highway-maintaining Mainroad South-Island Contracting. He rejected Wilson’s claim danger-flood signs weren’t erected when Wilson approached Cow Bay Road at around noon.

“That’s not true. Signs were up for a week by then,” he said.

Posted warnings, including ‘drop-down’ barriers were across one end of the soggy road that started flooding — with rising tides and rain — on Nov. 22.

“If people choose to drive around the barriers, they should tip-toe,” said Bohner, dismayed by folks who could become angry when told they can’t use the swamped roadway.

He advised determined drivers to go slowly, and allow turnaround space on flood-prone Cow Bay Road.

But Wilson said he felt in control of his van Sunday — until it was too late.

“The amount of flooding along there had never been a problem in the past.”

But the waterline forced Mainroad to warn motorists to use Bench Road to reach the bay, Bohmer said, after a flood tip from a Trans-Isle Freightways trucker.

“If you can’t see these pull-downs, you’re not very smart.”

Cowichan Bay fire chief Ken Bulcock agreed.

He said the pull-downs were in operation Sunday “because I had to drive around that control arm.”

Wilson was the first driver rescued by Bulcock’s crews, and the chief heard Wilson’s reasoning .

“He said he didn’t see that arm, for whatever reason.”

Bulcock was satisfied Mainroad’s crews acted well to warn motorists about flooding on Cow Bay Road.

“All warnings were in place.

“Later on Sunday, they put barricades right across the road — they had to increase signage because people kept ignoring them.”

But Wilson was adamant he wasn’t taking risks Sunday.

“I wasn’t trying to test it. I thought I’d go through slowly.”

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