A former woodlands manager with Meadow Creek Cedar is worried taxpayers could be on the hook for millions of dollars to reforest the company’s old cutblocks.
Bill Kestell says he’s concerned Meadow Creek won’t follow through on a remediation order issued by the district manager earlier this year.
“When you see how bad all the non-compliance issues are, especially the silviculture, it’s pretty devastating,” he says.
Kestell worked for Meadow Creek for 13 years, including five as woodlands manager — although only spent a few months under the current ownership. For the last six years, he’s been the forester for Porcupine Wood Products near Salmo.
Kestell says during his time with Meadow Creek, they had an annual silviculture budget of $1.2 million to $1.4 million, mostly for brushing and site tending of older plantations.
Licensees usually try to replant cutblocks within 1.5 years of harvesting, he said.
However, a recent Forest Practices Board report found the company failed to do any brushing for five years, and also questioned its purchase and handling of seedlings.
Kestell says the backlog makes the license unappealing to potential buyers who would inherit the obligations along with the timber base.
“The problem now is who is going to take over those obligations?” he asked. “Who is going to pay for that license to become viable again?
When it was last up for sale a few years ago, Kestell says Porcupine concluded about $5 million was required. Now, he estimates it will take $10 million to $20 million to bring the cutblocks back to free-growing status.
“If it’s not going to be a licensee of any kind, it’s going to be government. We’re going to pay for it.”
The province has a dedicated fund to carry out silviculture work when remediation orders are not obeyed, but district forest manager Garth Wiggill wasn’t sure how much is in the account.
Wiggill’s order, issued at the end of January, requires Meadow Creek Cedar to replant all cut blocks in contravention and submit reports confirming the work is up to standard by mid-August.
“Because this determination is still under appeal it is premature for me to predict exactly how we may respond following August 15,” Wiggill said. “My office is closely monitoring Meadow Creek Cedar activities and various mitigation options are being considered.”
Wiggill says his understanding is the company has ordered seedlings and hired someone to plant trees this spring, “so we are waiting and watching so see what transpires over the coming weeks.”
Kestell, meanwhile, feels while the Forest Practices Board report was thorough, it let the Ministry of Forests off the hook. Given the transgressions detailed in the report, he asks why it took so long for the company’s license to be suspended. “It’s hard to say better late than never. I’m not so sure.”
Kestell also wonders what will become of the land base in the next timber supply review, and thinks his own professional association needs to accept some blame.
“The overriding thing everyone talks about is the [Forest and Range Protection Act] and professional reliance and accountability,” he says.
“I believe managers in this area live and die by the act. But when something as large as this happens in the world of professional reliance, who’s accountable? Nobody seems to be.”
Trucking firms still grounded
Although two trucking companies associated with Meadow Creek Cedar may be back in good standing with the BC corporate registry, they still aren’t authorized to operate commercial vehicles.
Ministry of Transportation spokeswoman Kate Trotter says neither Partap Farm and Transportation nor Daminis Transport Inc. has its national safety code certificate.
Both companies hauled for Meadow Creek before being taken off the road for safety violations.
As reported in the Star this week, Dale Kooner is trying to sell three logging trucks and four trailers that belong to the two companies to generate cash for his Surrey blueberry farm, which faces foreclosure and receivership.
Kooner is the sole owner of Daminis, while his son owns Partap.