Can a BC forest company teetering on bankruptcy fail to pay its workers, use illegal immigrant labour, ignore its silviculture obligations, and break dozens of safety rules yet continue to do business?
Yes, was the answer in the astonishing case of Meadow Creek Cedar.
Since 2005, the Lardeau Valley operation has established an all-round unenviable reputation under the ownership of Surrey blueberry farm proprietor Dale Kooner.
The Star spent the year chronicling the company’s many problems, beginning with the revelation several trucks belonging to an associated hauler were taken off the road for safety violations, and WorkSafeBC found numerous workplace infractions.
Among them: although the mill was a “high-risk work site,” it had no qualified first aid attendant. An emergency vehicle fitted with lawn chairs was used to take employees to work, and migrant Mexican workers hadn’t been given safety orientations.
No sooner were these issues addressed than others arose.
A log hit and shattered a worker’s leg while he and a colleague used a loader to get ice out of a conveyor base. A young worker lost parts of three fingers after catching his hand between a live chain and drive sprocket of a belt conveyor.
This effectively shut the mill down, although the company continued to work in the bush and ship logs out of the valley, while failing to meet its reforestation obligations, despite the repeated warnings of its own professional forester.
All of this was against the backdrop of a still-unfulfilled proposal to creditors that staved off bankruptcy in 2009.
While it outraged residents, who wanted the company stripped of its license, none of it was enough to stop the company in its tracks.
It did, however, draw the attention of regional director Andy Shadrack, MLA Michelle Mungall — who met with the forests minister — and the ministry’s compliance and enforcement staff. It also brought a rebuke from a former compliance officer and Meadow Creek Cedar contractor who accused the government of turning a blind eye.
At year’s close, the company is the subject of several investigations. The district forest manager is expected to rule within weeks on alleged silviculture breaches, while a wide-ranging Forest Practices Board report is also due out soon.