The Regional District of Central Kootenay board is writing a letter to Minister of Forests Doug Donaldson asking for an independent assessment of plans for logging at Laird Creek, which flows into Kootenay Lake near Balfour. They also want legislative changes to a process known as the professional reliance model.
The RDCK’s letter to the minister will also relay public concerns about a timber harvesting proposal near Argenta because of its proximity to the Johnson’s Landing slide of 2012 that destroyed several houses and killed three residents.
Cooper Creek Cedar holds a timber licence at Laird Creek and to reach it the company will have to cross an area hit by a landslide in 2011 after it was logged a few years earlier. The slide plugged a number of water systems. The timber licensee at that time, BC Timber Sales, temporarily provided drinking water to about 100 homes after the slide.
“The community wants to see an independent qualified professional assess it,” said RDCK chair Karen Hamling about Cooper Creek Timber’s plans, “because there has been a slide there before. People are nervous and they want to be sure.”
Al Walters of the Laird Creek Water Users told the Star his group has petitioned the RDCK about their concerns about the road.
“The petition had 60 or 70 names on it,” he said, “of local water users who want the RDCK to get involved, providing for an independent third party assessment because we don’t have faith in the professional reliance system as it has played out here over the years.”
Bill Kestell of Cooper Creek Cedar told the Star he has no problem with the ministry getting another consultant opinion of the terrain stability in Laird Creek in addition to the one commissioned by his company. He said he has told the RDCK, the water user group, and the ministry that he intends to share his company’s assessment reports with all of them.
Hamling said the board will also press for legislative changes “because Ministry of Forest’s district manager has no teeth – they cannot deny (a logging proposal).”
She is referring to the professional reliance model, in which decisions about logging plans and practices are made by private consultants hired by the logging company. This model is controversial and the B.C. government is in the process of examining and perhaps changing it.
“Forestry used to have staff that would do all this,” Hamling said. “(The government) took all the staff away and gave it to companies to take care of. At what point do you decide the community is more important than the dollar? Where a community has gone through this once before I really don’t blame them for being nervous.”
Ramona Faust, who represents Balfour on the RDCK board, says the 2011 Laird Creek landslide happened after consultant Greg Utzig (working for the ministry, before the professional reliance model came in) recommended against building the road but the company went ahead and built it anyway. After the landslide, this was reported to the watchdog Forest Practices Board, which decided (to some local controversy) that BC Timber Sales had done nothing wrong.
Utzig, contacted by the Star, said, “In that report I specifically said be careful about this kind of road construction, and these are the risks. The Ministry of Forests hired another consultant to do a more detailed terrain assessment prior to building a road. That person either never read my report or chose to ignore it. They did exactly what I said not to do.”
That backstory makes residents even more nervous, Faust says.
“The community is just so fragile that they would like peer a review, so they have approached the RDCK.”
Faust says it is not the RDCK’s job to get involved in logging disputes, but they are being asked with increasing frequency to do so.
“We don’t have a department, we don’t have the expertise, we don’t collect any taxation for this. But we as directors have been put in this position and it is a heavy load to carry.”