Regional district asks BC to restrict Alberta border traffic

Restricting Alberta border?

As the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic continues into the spring, some B.C. municipalities are asking for the border between B.C. and Alberta to be temporarily tightened to allow for only essential travel.

But B.C.'s provincial health officer says it's not necessary.

B.C. health officials have already asked people not to travel to their vacation properties ahead of the Easter long weekend, and now the Regional District of East Kootenay has written a letter calling on the provincial health officer to tighten inter-provincial traffic as well.

During her daily press conference Tuesday, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said she doesn't think she has the power to restrict inter-provincial travel, but that it's "not something that I believe is necessary at this point.”

The B.C. backcountry is always a popular spot for explorers, snowmobilers and four-wheel drive enthusiasts, especially when the weather warms up.

"The Easter weekend is when it starts here and it goes right through to Thanksgiving, we see quite a migration," said Rob Gay, RDEK board chair. "Calgary has a population of 1.3 million and a lot of them like to come to the East Kootenays."  

Gay says the measure would hurt their local economy, but he and the rest of the board unanimously passed the motion and sent the letter to the provincial government on Tuesday.

"While the Provincial Health Officers on both sides of the border have been clear in their messaging that people need to be staying home, that message is not being heeded," the board's letter states. "We are gravely concerned about the potential impacts on our small rural hospitals, front-line workers and communities."

Gay is concerned that an influx of non-locals attempting to wait out the pandemic at vacation homes, private campgrounds or in the backcountry, could have a devastating impact on East Kootenay communities.

"Ninety-nine per cent of the people are following the rules, but for the last three weekends, we've just seen large groups at the trailheads of different trails. There is also mudbogging going on out at Lake Kookanusa where people play in the mud," Gay said, adding that people bring their trailers and set up camp. He's seen many photos of large groups camping and congregating, enjoying campfires.

"That's not what we're supposed to be doing right now."

To combat recreation travellers, he'd like to see checkpoints in place.

"If you're coming through the Crowsnest Pass, towing a trailer or a couple of Ski-Doos, you're probably not coming here to work," Gay said. "Those are the type of people who we'd like to see some sort of flagging station set up and for them to be pulled over and asked what their business in B.C. is. So it's more of a checkpoint than an actual border closure."

Gay agrees with health officials' recommendation for everyone to limit travel and stay in their homes for the time being.

"We keep using the word temporary, who knows how long temporary will be? But we do know if we don't follow the rules we know temporary is going to be a lot longer."

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