Five separate investigations into Meadow Creek Cedar’s forest practices are expected to come before the district manager for decisions this winter.
Dan Barron, the compliance and enforcement manager for the Kootenays, said he couldn’t go into much detail, as the files are still active, but the most serious allegation is failure to meet silviculture requirements.
“They have obligations under a license to establish tree seedlings, either naturally or by planting within a certain time period. We’re alleging they haven’t done that,” Barron said.
The other cases involve a road issue, a possible trespass, winter range obligations and possibly exceeding site disturbance standards.
Barron couldn’t reveal where or when the infractions are alleged to have occurred, but said they are not on-going.
He emphasized nothing has been proven, and the company doesn’t have a long non-compliance record.
“There have been a couple of minor things in the past, but nothing significant,” he said.
In 2009, Meadow Creek Cedar was fined $2,100 for breaches of the Forest Practices Code — $100 each for 21 contraventions of the company’s silviculture obligations. Although the company appealed the decision, the fine was upheld. The maximum penalty for each infraction was $5,000.
Barron says a violation ticket was also issued this spring for unauthorized use of a forest service road.
Among the current investigations, he says the silviculture issue is potentially “very serious” because of significant liabilities involved.
“I’m more concerned with the silviculture matter at this point,” he says. “But we’re paying attention to the others as well.”
No stop work orders have been issued against the company — which can be done if a licensee causes ongoing environmental damage.
“In all these cases, [the work] is already done. There’s no reason to issue a stop work order,” Barron says. “They’ve been made aware of some of these investigations so they can take actions to rectify things if they feel they should.”
Barron said while it’s not common for a forestry company to face five non-compliance investigations at once, it’s not unheard of either. He wasn’t sure if any other companies in his jurisdiction have a similar number of outstanding files.
Barron has headed compliance and enforcement in the West Kootenay since 2004, and for the last two years has been manager for all of the Kootenays and the Columbia region.
There are 24 field officers, including supervisors and foresters throughout the area, operating out of eight offices. Two officers have been assigned to Meadow Creek’s files.
Barron said the investigations began recently, and are likely to come to a head in the next few months. The Ministry of Forests uses an extra-judicial review process, involving an oral hearing before the district manager. The government and licensee present their cases, and then the manager makes a binding determination.
The amount of attention the compliance division devotes to a given company is based on past performance and a risk rating process, Barron said
“It used to be very stringent with a formula, but we often don’t get enough information to use that model anymore. Now it’s more subjective.”
He said Meadow Creek Cedar is considered “at risk,” and enforcement staff have “concentrated on them this year because of some of the stuff we have seen in their results reporting.”
FORMER OFFICER SPEAKS OUT
A former compliance and enforcement officer — who later worked for Meadow Creek Cedar and is among its creditors — is critical of the Ministry’s response to date.
“The Ministry has known about Meadow Creek Cedar’s non-compliance issues since 2006 and has clearly failed to uphold the mandates of the legislation. And the taxpayers are going to be on the hook,” she says. “They have the mechanisms in place to stop the licensee in their tracks, yet they continue not to do it.”
The former officer, who asked not to be named, worked in compliance from 1995 to 2003 and as a consultant for Meadow Creek from 2006 to 2008.
During that time, she witnessed an incident involving a cutblock known as CP 265 that she says demonstrated Ministry negligence.
Although forest companies used to need approved site plans — detailing cutblock boundaries, locations of roads, and standards to meet their forest stewardship plans — before beginning work, now they only need to keep them on file.
The former officer says a compliance officer wanted to see the plan for CP 265, but the company couldn’t produce it because it wasn’t finished. Yet work on the cutblock was already underway and allowed to continue until the company provided a plan several weeks later.
“The Ministry knew something suspicious was going on, but failed to demand ‘show us [the plan] now or cease operations,’ which I believe is in their legislative right,” she says.
According to Barron, it’s not unusual for a company not to have a site plan handy, and historically Meadow Creek was good at producing those documents right away.
In this case, however, the company said it couldn’t provide the plan due to a break-in at their office that resulted in stolen computer equipment and mixed-up files.
“The officer and another member of the special investigations unit looked at the explanation and the rationale and felt that was adequate at the time,” Barron says. “They didn’t proceed with any further follow-up or enforcement action. They could have seized computers but didn’t feel it was appropriate.”
Although a stop-work order could have been issued as well, Barron says the work appeared to be in compliance, so the officers didn’t feel it was warranted.
Work on CP 265 also landed Meadow Creek’s former registered forester in trouble with his professional association.
A summary of the discipline case published in January by the Association of BC Forest Professionals says Rodney Arnold “acknowledges and admits” violating his professional obligations “by incompetently engaging in the practice of professional forestry and/or acting in a manner unbecoming a member of the [association].”
As part of a negotiated settlement, Arnold agreed to provide a written apology, not do any independent work on unstable terrain without direction from a geotechnical expert for three years, and have a letter of reprimand placed on his file.
Arnold was cited for moving a road without consulting a geotechnical engineer and misrepresenting the status of CP 265.
When the cutting permit submission was filed, the summary says, Arnold told the Ministry of Forests a completed site plan was on file in his office, but later admitted it wasn’t actually signed until after harvesting began.
However, the agreed statement of facts also noted none of this contravened provincial legislation and Arnold received no economic benefit as a result.