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End in sight? Repairs continue at popular Othello Tunnels

The Othello Tunnels were damaged during the November 2021 storms.

The trail to the Othello Tunnels — a popular B.C. tourist destination shut down by the November 2021 floods — will partly reopen to the public next year, Glacier Media has confirmed. 

In a written statement on Tuesday, the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy says the initial engineering assessment has been completed. 

"The assessments show varying levels of structural damage to all five tunnels and the first bridge crossing as well as significant erosion of the trail,” said a spokesperson. 

Scaling and safety measures are still needed to ensure visitors are protected from rockfalls after the atmospheric river rainfall impacted the slopes above the tunnel. 

"Detailed assessments are now underway for the bridge and tunnel that sustained damage during the event,” noted the spokesperson. 

Once additional information is available from these assessments, BC Parks will determine the best approach for repair.

"BC Parks is committed to a thoughtful approach to rebuilding infrastructure in a climate-resilient way, as the severity and frequency of storms is expected to increase due to climate change,” the ministry said, adding BC Parks is planning on having a ‘phased’ reopening of Coquihalla Canyon. 

"We are planning to have part of the trail open to visitors next year,” said the spokesperson. 

The Othello Tunnels, near Hope, were heavily damaged after an enormous volume of water went through Coquihalla Canyon Provincial Park.

Back in December 2021, BC Parks area supervisor Rob Wilson told Glacier Media damage to the park was "quite extensive" and that "quite a bit" of the access road to the tunnels had been lost.

“There have been a number of large trees that have fallen from slopes above, indicating that there was probably a landslide in the area that washed the trees down onto the trail,” he said at the time.

The tunnels also saw significant destruction. Hailed by some as an engineering feat, the tunnels were built in the early 1900s by the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR).

At the time, CPR wanted to link the Kootenay region with the B.C. coast by rail. Chief engineer Andrew McCulloch was tasked with building the railway over three major mountain ranges. The Othello Tunnels became part of the Kettle Valley Railway.

Unfortunately, the line was plagued with snow and rockslides. On Nov. 23, 1959, a 400-foot washout occurred just north of the tunnels. Crews closed the line and never reopened it. 

The tunnels are often closed in the winter for rockfall safety.

The ministry is reminding the public to stay out of the tunnels and off the trail as rainfall could further erode the already unstable tunnels and slope above. 

BC Parks is also asking the public to stay clear of damaged areas. Anyone who tries to enter a closed provincial park can be fined up to $1,000,000 under the Park Act. Charges may be brought forward.

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