Meadow Creek deserves the ink

November 9, 2011 - Submitted
November 9, 2011
— image credit: Submitted

A commenter on nelsonstar.com, who recently moved to the Kootenays from Northern BC, wondered why we devote so much space to the Meadow Creek Cedar saga — over 1,700 words in Friday’s edition alone. It’s a legitimate question that I will attempt to answer.

“It seems to me that the Nelson Star has a vendetta or a bone to pick... I have never seen a community paper report so negatively on a local business as the Nelson Star has done to Meadow Creek Cedar,” the post read.

“I am sure that Meadow Creek Cedar is not the first business in the Nelson area to file for bankruptcy and not pay their employees or their creditors and I know that they are not the only business that have had loss time accidents or noncompliance notices from WorkSafeBC.”

True, others have experienced similar problems — but all at once?

No local forestry company has ever pushed regulations so far and gotten away with so much while working in our woods.

This story has so many tentacles I could devote myself to it full-time. Alas, a small newspaper doesn’t have that luxury. But thus far, no other media outlet has paid much attention — with the singular exception of the Valley Voice — so we feel some responsibility to keep pursuing it.

Since the company’s purchase in 2005 by Dale Kooner, it has:

• Built substandard roads.

• Failed to pay its workers on time.

• Flouted silviculture obligations, and ignored the advice of its own forester.

• Filed for creditor protection and missed several deadlines to make final payments.

• Had two affiliated hauling companies taken off the road for safety violations. (One remains suspended, the other had its license cancelled.)

• Been cited by WorkSafeBC for at least 65 workplace safety infractions, which led to lost fingers, a broken leg, and ultimately shut down the mill. (Although safety officers recommended a fine, none has so far been forthcoming. A WorkSafe spokeswoman said this week it’s still under consideration, but wasn’t sure how long a decision might take.)

Then there’s the matter of immigrant workers brought from a blueberry farm in Surrey to work at the mill last year — of questionable legality at best.

And this is just the stuff we have been able to confirm and report. Numerous other allegations are harder to substantiate.

Each matter is handled by a different regulatory agency, and herein lies the problem: the RCMP, Ministry of Transportation, Ministry of Forests, and WorkSafeBC, among others, can only look at things within their own jurisdiction. Officially, they cannot see the forest for the trees.

When the company’s track record is taken as a whole, however, it is so far off the industry norm as to beggar belief.

Meadow Creek Cedar has not demonstrated it is trustworthy enough to cut another inch of timber — which, if it needs repeating, is a public resource. Companies are granted licenses to profit from our forests and in return have a responsibility to uphold obligations which I would argue are much greater than just barely meeting statutory requirements.

The online poster’s comments also anticipated Friday’s story, wherein we examined the regulatory question. Should the Ministry of Forests shoulder some of the blame? A former compliance officer, who later worked for Meadow Creek, thinks so.

She also asks: why would the Ministry even consider issuing further cutting permits to a company teetering on bankruptcy that has failed to meet its silviculture obligations?

Good question. If the company bails after clearing its next cut block, the taxpayer will be left to clean up the mess.

What’s Meadow Creek Cedar’s response to all of this? It doesn’t have one. Neither Kooner nor anyone in management with this sorry operation has ever returned our messages.

Several former employees, however, have approached us with tales that made us shudder. (According to one, management told them the Nelson Star “hates Meadow Creek Cedar and prints lies.”)

The people of the Lardeau Valley deserve better.

It’s time for a ministerial fiat to stop this nonsense. Let’s hope MLA Michelle Mungall’s meeting with Forests Minister Steve Thomson on November 17 results in just that.

In the meantime, I look forward to the release of a Forest Practices Board report on the company’s operations. No matter how much lawyers water down the final version, it should prove illuminating.

Greg Nesteroff is a reporter at the Nelson Star. He can be reached at reporter2@nelsonstar.com


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