Board lets residents down

Thanks to the Star for reporting on a complex local water issue that has much wider implications.

Re: “Balfour slide report criticized,” March 19

Thanks to the Star for reporting on a complex local water issue that has much wider implications. The circumstances surrounding the landslide and debris flow into Laird Creek are an example of how government agencies respond to public input before, during, and after degradation of a domestic watershed.

The landslide in Laird Creek didn’t just happen — it happened after a great deal of public scrutiny of BC Timber Sales’ planning process for road building and logging above unstable terrain. Starting in 2004, after careful examination of all the technical reports for the proposal, members of the public objected to perceived inadequacies and shortcomings of the planning process, but had their concerns dismissed.

The Forest Practices Board website describes the board as an “independent watchdog” that has “a mandate to hold both government and the forest industry publicly accountable for forestry practices.” So it seemed appropriate for water users to file a complaint in 2004, hoping to have what appeared to be a deeply flawed plan altered. However, the plan went ahead with only minor alterations. After the landslide in 2011, water users filed a second complaint, hoping to have mistakes identified and the parties responsible held accountable — so that lessons learned could prevent similar events in the future. To date, no one has been held accountable, and there seems to be persistent avoidance of addressing the real flaws in the process.

As pointed out in the article, the Forest Practices Board report concludes that BCTS’ practices were sound, but includes several “recommendations” that the Board hopes might help prevent future slides. Since most of these recommendations speak directly to some of the water users’ fundamental objections raised during the planning process and in this complaint, we have to wonder why the board report appears so intent on exonerating BCTS from any responsibility for the landslide.

The report makes much of the fact that BCTS acted responsibly following the slide, “though there was no legislated requirement for it to do so.” It is sobering to think that there is no legislated requirement to act in a responsible manner in such a situation, and curious that the report makes no further comment on this. This is also an example of how this report seems to go out of its way to cast BCTS in a favourable light. The complaint actually only focused on BCTS’s activities leading up to the landslide, so why does the report repeat, a number of times, how well BCTS behaved after the slide occurred?

It now appears to water users that, despite its reassuring language, the Forest Practices Board either cannot or will not judge actual results. In this case a significant landslide occurred in unstable terrain after repeated and detailed concerns about the risks were expressed by water users prior to the proposed operation. In concluding that the BCTS “operational and technical practices were sound” the board fails to identify what actions or omissions led to the landslide. The message for the public is that no one will be held accountable and that all water users in BC downstream of logging could have valid concerns about their safety and water quality.

Al Walters, Laird Creek

John Beerbower, Queens Bay