Local experts say a logging company’s plans to develop an area near Johnsons Landing shouldn’t result in another landslide similar to that of the one that killed four people and destroyed three homes in 2012.
Cooper Creek Cedar owns two timber licences for the mountain face located along the east shore of Kootenay Lake between Johnsons Landing and Argenta. The company released a forest stewardship plan last year signalling its intent to log in the area, although exactly where and how large the cut blocks would be is still unknown.
Bill Kestell, Cooper Creek Cedar’s woodlands manager, said there was consensus at a March 13 meeting with independent geologists, provincial and regional representatives that the conditions around Gar Creek, which led to the Johnsons Landing slide, aren’t consistent along the rest of the face.
Logging and road construction, he added, were also not factors in the slide.
“We’re not saying the face unit itself, like any other mountainous area around here, is not a concern for terrain instability,” said Kestell. “We are still going to go ahead and do all the required, appropriate terrain stability assessments as we develop and as we go ahead.”
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development told the Star in an email that no logging or development can happen in a 278.6-hectare area around the Gar Creek drainage.
“It is possible that logging may occur in other areas along the Argenta face. However, the area available for logging is quite limited given the terrain issues, visual quality objectives and ungulate winter ranges.”
Aimee Watson, the Regional District of Central Kootenay director for Area D, said she’s been in communication with Cooper Creek Cedar and her constituents regarding the issue since last year.
Landslides, she said, aren’t the only concern she’s heard from the public.
“Climate change and increasingly weather that’s extremely unpredictable, and a land base that hasn’t really ever been logged, their concerns are specific to public safety,” said Watson. “Are operations going to cause a risk to their homes, their structures and also their water systems. There’s over 52 water licences in that area, so it’s all about the safety and the protection of their community.”
Watson said she’s requested and been granted approval from the ministry for a third-party assessment of the area’s slope stability.
Technically that assessment will have no legal power because of the professional reliance model, which says that plans and practices are decided on by logging companies after a forest stewardship plan has been approved.
Peter Jordan, a professional geoscientist and landslide expert, was among those at last month’s meeting. He previously worked 25 years in the forest service and said he has plenty of experience examining the face between Argenta and Johnsons Landing.
Jordan said the area’s terrain, which is on top of sedimentary and metamorphic rocks, is more prone to landslides than the granite base Nelson is built on.
“The geology is just inherently weaker, so there’s a greater instance of landslides in that geology than there is in the more solid geology,” he said.
Jordan added logging can also cause erosion that adds sediment to water, which in turn affects fish and wildlife habitats along with water quality. On the other hand, he said logging from Argenta south to Johnsons Landing, a distance of approximately 10 kilometres, could also help mitigate wild fires in a forest that’s overdue for a burn.
Either way, Cooper Creek Cedar will need to take a lot of care for what could be a relatively small cut.
“Although there’s no requirement under present legislation that they do take any special care, in practise they do,” said Jordan. “There’s a difference between what the laws and regulations say what they have to do and what I guess they need to do to maintain their social licence to be a responsible operator.”
Jordan and Greg Utzig, a conservation ecologist, were among those in agreement that another landslide on the scale of the one six years ago was unlikely.
“We’ve had landslides occur in the last couple weeks,” said Utzig. “There’s been a number of small ones that have occurred just because of heavy rains and packed snow melt and saturated ground. But they are in the order of a few dump truck loads, whereas the Johnsons Landing slide was a huge slide by any measure.
“It’s not the kind of thing that’s a day-to-day event.”
Kestell said Cooper Creek Cedar hopes to begin field work as soon as snow melt allows for it. A preliminary work schedule provided by the company says it hopes to have identified potential cut blocks and road routes by August, and that a final application could be submitted to the ministry by September or October.
The company’s assessments will also be provided to the ministry and RDCK for peer review, and Kestell encouraged public feedback. “We’re at the very beginning of a long process,” he said.
Utzig owns land adjacent to the Johnsons Landing slide and previously conducted terrain mapping in the area during the 1980s. He said he is conflicted about future logging, which is a feeling shared by many of the area’s residents.
“The Johnsons Landing slide has actually created more of a fear of the negative repercussions than harvesting might have, although it was plenty strong enough before.”