Minister Michelle Mungall attended a community meeting about the Ymir watershed before she was successfully re-elected earlier this year. According to her, she continues to advocate on their behalf. Photo: Will Johnson

Ymir watershed delegation headed to Victoria

Water advocates hope to sway Minister Doug Donaldson

The latest hydrology report for the Quartz Creek area, a document that some believe could significantly affect the decision-making around proposed logging in the Ymir watershed, is nearing completion and will be made public soon.

The report is the first of three ordered by BC Timber Sales (BCTS) following accusations that their original findings were incomplete and didn’t accurately portray the fragility of the community’s collection pond, which is situated near one of their proposed cut blocks.

“BCTS wants to re-assure everyone that we are listening to the concerns brought forward and other than hydrological work, we have not started work on the ground,” BCTS’ timber sales manager Russ Laroche told the Star.

“The main fact we want to keep reiterating is that we’re still in the information-gathering phase. There are people putting us down for not doing things properly, for not listening to them and their concerns, but so far all we’ve been doing is listening.”

That being said, they weren’t at a recent RDCK meeting in which regional directors discussed watershed harvesting with members of the Interior Lumber Manufacturers Association (ILMA) because they weren’t invited — according to Laroche, they would’ve gladly joined if they had been.

A meeting between BCTS and the Ymir Watershed Action Team is in the works.

Mungall: ‘Still opposed to bad decision-making’

Earlier this year Minister Michelle Mungall attended a Ymir community meeting and promised to help pressure the provincial government to “undo their mistake.”

In the meantime Mungall’s been re-elected, moving from opposition into power under Premier John Horgan, and she’s taken on a new role as Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources — a position that puts her in charge of, among other things, choosing whether to move forward with Site C.

At the time of the meeting, Mungall compared Ymir’s fight to the Jumbo Wild campaign, saying “we need butts on logging roads,” and vowed to advocate on their behalf. But now she’s in a very different position as a representative of the government tasked with harvesting the trees.

So how does that change things for her?

According to Mungall, not at all. She’s made contact with rural representative Hans Cunningham and the minister who’s now in charge of the Ministry of Forest, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO), Doug Donaldson, to express the community’s concerns.

She echoed the community’s sentiment that she’s not anti-logging, she’s just “opposed to bad decision-making.”

Reached this week by the Star, Mungall said “nothing has changed from the day I started working on this issue.”

“I’ve had conversations with Minister Donaldson and we’re working with FLNRO to make sure we have good decision-making — which the community didn’t feel the ministry had before,” she said.

She’s inviting residents to continue to share their views with her.

“We’re going to make sure we’re well-informed on this watershed and how it operates to make sure people have clean drinking water.”

BCTS: ‘We’re a science-driven organization’

The political realities surrounding the Ymir watershed are constantly evolving, but Laroche is trying to focus on the facts on the ground — leaving the politics to Mungall, Donaldson and the rest of the provincial government.

“We are a government entity and we take direction from our minister and our ministry, but we’re a science-driven organization and we’re professionals committed to getting the best information,” he said.

Taking into consideration information gathered from stakeholders and the legislation that applies to watershed harvesting, Laroche confirmed the collection pond that’s become the visual symbol of the controversy will still have trees and vegetation surrounding it.

“There’s a legislated minimum, and to be very clear: when those blocks are put on paper they’re just to show the areas we’re looking at. The final boundaries will be based on the information we gather,” he said.

“There will be no logging right adjacent to the collection pond and intake.”

BCTS will also take other concerns into mind when moving forward, including protecting the community from forest fire, and Laroche said the proposed logging area closest to the collection pond will not be “a standard block.”

Ymir delegation headed to Victoria

Ymir spokesperson Jason Leus is travelling to Victoria on Oct. 23 with Lower Kootenay Band councillor Jared Basil to meet with Green Party MLA Sonia Furstenau — and they’re hoping to enlist her support. They have spoken to her office and learned she is enthusiastic about learning more about their situation.

“We’re super encouraged by the Lower Kootenay Band’s continuing support of the Ymir position, as our community is located in their traditional territory,” Leus said.

“We’re hoping for a sympathetic ear in the form of Sonia Furstenau — who got into politics as a result of her own community watershed struggle.”

Meanwhile their regional director Hans Cunningham has met face-to-face with Donaldson during the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) conference last week. Leus is buoyed by all this momentum, but still concerned that the “process is so heavily weighted towards industry.”

According to him, Mungall has “changed her tune” since becoming elected.

“Michelle’s advice to us pre-election to post-election changed. First she was encouraging us to be as active as possible, and currently she is counselling us to be patient and let the process take it’s course — it’s a bit concerning.”

He said “my fondest hope is that Michelle will continue to be a champion for values held so dearly by Kootenay residents, namely in this case water security.”

Leus doesn’t plan to follow her advice.

“The Ymir Watershed Action Team will not remain idle.”

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