Trevor Kanigan of Blue Ridge Timber (seen at left

Back to the woods for Blue Ridge Timber

A local forest company hopes to begin silviculture work and new logging on the suspended Meadow Creek Cedar license this month.

A local forest company hopes to begin silviculture work and new logging on the suspended Meadow Creek Cedar license this month.

Blue Ridge Timber principal Trevor Kanigan believes the Ministry of Forests is satisfied with their performance since they took over management of the license last October and will soon grant the company new cutting permits. The license would still be partially suspended but they would have access to more fibre.

Kanigan says he plans to put contractors in place next week with the intention of starting to log as of April 22, assuming the permits are issued. Work would begin the same day to address an extensive silviculture backlog, depending on weather.

A ministry spokeswoman confirmed a letter is expected this month varying the license suspension and new permits may be awarded if the company’s forest stewardship plan meets all requirements. However, she said volumes haven’t been determined yet. The company has to date been allowed to log 48,000 cubic meters.

“I am extremely pleased with the progress [district manager Garth] Wiggill and his staff have helped us achieve and look forward to starting the upcoming season’s silviculture and logging activities,” Kanigan said in an email. “There are a lot of people anxious to get back to work in the forest and a lot of mills looking forward to seeing the licenses’ log volume made available to them.”

‘Bureaucrats in a tizzy’

However, early last month, Kanigan expressed frustration to Madison’s Lumber Reporter, an industry newsletter, at how long it was taking to increase the volume of timber available to them. He hoped it would have been upped much sooner, and suggested interference from Victoria was to blame.

Madison’s editor Keta Kosman opined that a private company restoring bad practices on public land “sent longstanding bureaucrats at the ministry into a tizzy. Their reaction is to bury the operator in paperwork, oversight, and a ridiculous level of sticking to details, presumably to ensure no mistakes are made.”

Wiggill, however, told the Star “We’re not in a tizzy. We’ve been very clear how we want to manage the license and trying to do the right thing in the public interest.”

Wiggill said despite skepticism from some in the industry, he’s received a lot of community support, and insisted bureaucracy is not getting in the way. “It’s not my masters in Victoria pulling my strings. All decisions have been my own,” he said.

He explained those decisions have to be “durable,” and follow all legal processes. They are closely watched not only by the media but by the Forest Practices Board, he added. Following an investigation last year that found Meadow Creek Cedar’s practices “unsound,” Wiggill is required to provide feedback to the board on all decisions regarding the company’s license.

“I explained all my decisions are being scrutinized, and [Kanigan] might have interpreted that as interference,” Wiggill said.

He said Blue Ridge’s performance is still being evaluated, but “we are optimistic Trevor is following through on commitments and things haven’t gone sideways.”

Who speaks for the operator?

In the Madison’s article, Kanigan also wondered who his advocate was: “Who is my voice in Victoria? Who speaks for me, and the work I am trying to do?”

“Well, I do,” Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall told the Star. “That’s my job.”

Mungall, who has talked to both Kanigan and Wiggill in recent weeks, said approval of the forest stewardship plan hinges on First Nations consultation, due May 5, but the ministry could sign off sooner once it has all the feedback.

While Mungall acknowledges Kanigan’s frustration at government’s pace and agrees there is no need for “undue obstacles,” she believes government officials are trying to move ahead as quickly as possible.

“From my perspective, those in the ministry — Garth and up — are doing their best to help things move along without preferential treatment or anything outside the law,” she said. “We have to keep in mind there are 34 staff and 200 clients.”

Mungall added she’s hopeful Blue Ridge will be able to turn around the Meadow Creek Cedar mess. “The community told me they felt they were being held hostage and couldn’t move forward in terms of economic development. Trevor brings a light at the end of the tunnel. We’re very lucky to have a local person champion it. I do wish him all the success.”

Liberal candidate Greg Garbula has visited Kanigan’s South Slocan operation and talked to a couple of other mills. He said Kanigan is “to be commended for his efforts and his commitment to the industry … He is certainly trying to mitigate the damage from the suspended license.”

However, Garbula acknowledged not everyone in industry is onside: “[Kanigan] would like more support but there’s differences of opinions. Some say he’s not big enough to handle the full license. That’s where the debate is, how to maximize the license.”

Garbula said he thinks it’s less a matter of cutting through red tape than finding the proper solution. “I support anybody that’s going to give their best effort to resolve a lousy situation. Nobody’s really winning in this game right now.”

Green Party candidate Sjeng Derkx said he recognized this is a “very difficult” situation. “The outstanding silviculture liabilities need to be taken care of, but the area also desperately needs the jobs,” he said. “It is heartening to see that so many people are trying to make this work and I hope a solution can be found which will form the foundation of a healthy future for the business, the workers and the forest.”

Another fine levied

While Blue Ridge tries to rehabilitate the Meadow Creek Cedar license, the ministry’s compliance and enforcement branch continues to investigate alleged infractions under owner Dale Kooner.

Wiggill completed a determination earlier this year on a timber trespass that resulted in a $21,000 penalty — on top of previous fines of $42,000 and $13,500 for other infractions. He said part of Blue Ridge’s arrangement with Kooner is to pay off his penalties on a schedule tied to the license volume: for every cubic meter logged, a certain amount goes to the outstanding fines.

Wiggill said while they want Blue Ridge to succeed, they still need to follow due process. “We can’t just forgive legal obligation,” he said.

Other investigations are still ongoing and could be headed for hearings and determinations in May or June, he added.

Meadow Creek Cedar’s license was suspended in February 2012 for poor forestry practices and failing to meet legal obligations.

Blue Ridge Timber, which signed an agreement to conduct forestry operations under the license as the first step toward eventually buying it, is a sister company to Gold Island Forest Products, Sentinel Enterprises, and Selkirk Truss, all run by the Kanigan family at South Slocan.

They have also opened an office in Kaslo.

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