Hat Lake connector proposed

Canfor is proposing to build a direct connector road between the Leo Creek Forest Service Road and the North Road.

Canfor is proposing to build a direct connector road between the Leo Creek Forest Service Road and the North Road.

The proposed connector would allow Canfor to haul logs to a sort yard adjacent to the North Road, where off-highway logging trucks could stockpile logs. Highway trucks would then be able to haul to Canfor’s Plateau mill all year long.

While most of the proposed connector is actually already in place through existing roads those roads would require widening and new bridges would be put in place. Some new road would be required to fully connect to the 38 km point on the North Road.

The argument in favour of the road is it would allow Canfor to more easily supply their mills year-round, while also having a steadier year-round number of logging trucks through the community of Fort St. James instead of having to concentrate the trucking to the months when roads are not too soft (ie. “break-up” and “freeze-up”). The highway trucks hauling when the roads were softer would be modified to create less impact on the roads.

This would be less expensive, is the argument, because maintenance on the North Road is less costly than the Tachie Road, because Tachie Road is paved. Tachie Road is also winding and fairly narrow, which makes safety a consideration.

Canfor would be hauling up to a maximum of 2.25 million cubic metres of wood per year through Fort St. James. This is the maximum estimated annual fibre the company will be looking to haul to supply their Plateau mill once they have shifted to getting their timber supply from the Fort St. James area.

The shift to taking their fibre supply from the Fort St. James forest district will take place over a number of years.

The 2.25 million cubic metres would be moved in an estimated 41,000 logging truck loads per year by Canfor (this does not include trucks from other companies).

Putting a sort area on the Tachie Road would be possible however, Crown land could provide more certainty for the operation. (Recently, keyoh holders from Tl’azt’en Nation blockaded the Leo Creek Forest Service Road for a number of days: “Blockade comes down – for now”; Caledonia Courier September 18, 2013).

The MFLNRO has been processing the application and consulting with the Fort St. James Transportation Committee, the District of Fort St. James and Tl’azt’en Nation, looking at potential impacts on first nations’ interests and rights, hydrology and wildlife impacts.

A package of information examining all of these factors is being completed and will be put before the District Manager for Vanderhoof and Fort St. James Lynda Currie, who will ultimately make the decision to approve or decline the road application.

Mayor Rob MacDougall said the municipality has been in consultation with both the MFLNRO, Tl’azt’en Nation and Canfor about the connector.

“I think from the council’s point of view, we’re not necessarily opposed to it,” said MacDougall. He said they want to see Canfor work with Tl’azt’en and the MFLNRO to ensure adequate protection of the environment. He agreed with the upsides of increased safety and cost-effectiveness on the Tachie Road versus the North Road, but in the long term, he said the District would like to see more use of the railway to move some of the timber.

“It’s a safety aspect for us,” he said, pointing out using the railways system could make use of a significant investment in infrastructure and increase safety in the community.

Councillor Russ Gingrich, a member of the Fort St. James Transportation Committee, echoed MacDougall’s comments and said the Transportation Committee will continue to work on safety.

“Our concern is for the North Road and for the traffic going through town,” said Gingrich.

He said further upgrades to the North Road would be required.

The MOFLNRO also said some soft spots on the North Road would be a consideration, as is the creation of a loop road which would increase recreational traffic in the area, potentially impacting habitat and wildlife.

They said there are still some details being worked on to get all the information together, but it should be ready soon to go to Currie.

If the road were to be approved, Canfor would likely be hoping to start work next year.