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Reply to Councillor Luton

Hi John,

I thank you for taking the time to respond to my letter. I really appreciate you addressing my questions and concerns.

If I could summarize your response it would be that the city is progressing well, were it can, on the other issues I raised such as homelessness, sewage upgrades and other earthquake assessments but regardless of that the bridge must be upgraded due to significant liability issues. You also bring up interesting topics such as climate change, oil dependency and the previous referendum on sewage treatment. I will address these other topics first then discuss the liability issue..

I appreciate your views on climate change and how cycling helps reduce our carbon output. As I understand it, you are not happy that the current bridge caters more to cars than cyclists. I understand this frustration as my friends and I have complained about crossing the bridge on our bikes. A new bridge could no doubt encourage some additional cycling. So I agree with you but feel the benefits simply don’t outweigh the costs on this point alone.

The concerns I brought up regarding the state of our sewage system are two-part. I realize sewage outfall is a regional issue but I bring it up because the costs for our municipality alone are high. I wonder if it a good time to spend so much money when we will have to spend so much in the near future on the sewage project. The issue of sewage overflow is related but distinct. Many times a year our sewage system overflows into the storm-water system washing raw human waste into our immediate vicinity. I’m not sure how the new regional outflow plans will impact overflows but I’m sure our Municipality could do more to reduce this problem.

When you bring up the last referendum on sewage treatment I wonder if your point is that the city should sometimes act without consulting the public to ensure the correct decision is made. I did vote in that referendum and was disappointed in the do-nothing result. My memory is that the referendum had three options, an information program and two levels of treatment options of different costs. Most votes were split between the treatment plants while the do-nothing option had the highest of all three. At the time I blamed the city for the resulting lack of action by the way the referendum split the votes. I may be wrong on this though and would welcome any corrections.

I appreciate that the city must reduce its liability in the face of such a disaster and can understand how this could make other arguments irrelevant. I looked through the information on, and linked to from, your website regarding municipal liability issues. It is not entirely clear though that municipalities would be entirely liable for the damage done by its infrastructure (or lack thereof) in an earthquake. This is because I saw no discussion of hazards such as earthquakes, floods, etc. The document states:

This statutory duty has been interpreted by the courts as requiring that a particular road should be “kept in such a reasonable state of repair that those requiring to use the road may, using ordinary care, pass to and fro upon it in safety.”

And goes on to say (my bolding):

… the meaning of “repair” and the standard of care may vary from one locality to another, depending upon the amount of traffic, the economic means of the municipality to repair the roads and the requirements of the public.

I wonder if a referendum with an outcome that chose to not seismically upgrade the bridge would be legally interpreted as satisfying the above requirements for non-liability. If Victoria residents chose to spend $8 million to repair the bridge without the seismic upgrade this may very well constitute the city’s due diligence.

In addition, the example of bridge collapses on your webpage here doesn’t include any seismic events only collapses resulting from pure disrepair. The Cypress Viaduct collapse in 1989, as tragic and unfortunate as it was, did not seem to result in any major lawsuits that I can find.

Assuming the city is liable for all deaths resulting from failures in city-owned infrastructure it is not clear that the bridge is the first priority for upgrade. I am not certain but I assume City Hall and Crystal Pool are city-owned buildings and wonder about their level of seismic strength. Do we know for certain that these building in particular do not represent a larger amount of liability than the bridge? I bring this up because I assume the loss of life would be greater in these two buildings. There may be other potential liabilities from falling lighting, electrical injury, gas fires etc. It would be reassuring to know that seismically upgrading the bridge has been looked at in relation to all potential city liabilities resulting from an earthquake.

Finally, I can’t find mention of liabilities due to loss of economic activity on your website or anywhere else. I can’t imagine the city being successfully sued by the Bay, for example, because they lost customers after an earthquake.

If the liability of the bridge economically justifies a seismic upgrade I would support replacing it. To determine this we need to know what the estimated liability cost is, the costs associated with re-establishing the new bridge after an earthquake (will we be able to drive across it right after a magnitude 9.5 or will it need several million in repairs?) and the probabilities of various earthquake events. An economist or statistician should be able to determine this amount better than me but, given that an earthquake in the next 50 years is not 100% likely, I expect we would need at least $42 million (the cost of the replacement) in liability to justify the upgrade.

If this liability argument is not substantiated I believe all the other reasons to look at refurbishment instead of replacement become important again.

I have started my own blog at and would like to post your and my reply there. I assume you would be ok with this but let me know if you aren’t. Again I would like to thank you for engaging me on this issue. I have been swayed by your arguments to a large extent but am still not entirely convinced.


Saren Calvert