With the North Road controversy seemingly a long way from resolution, a side issue has arisen regarding the process of public consultation; a process in which Mayor Rob MacDougall has taken a prominent role.
“At the very least, the mayor should make it publicly known that he has a financial interest in how this decision comes down,” said Sharon Sims. She’s a community resident whose efforts have generated an on-line petition in opposition to the bid by Canfor to change the statues of the North Road (Germanson Highway) from a public roadway to a Forest Service Road.
That move would transfer the responsibility for maintenance of the road to Canfor and trigger fees for anyone using the road for industrial purposes (such as hauling logs off woodlot operations). It would also mean that larger, longer and heavier trucks would be using the roadway.
“We put a petition out there that generated over 1,000 signatures on-line and more than 500 on the paper petition we’d distributed around town. People don’t want this, but the Mayor shouldn’t be the one representing the town on this,” said Sims.
She is one of three people who expressed concerns over the Mayor’s insistence with his Council that he would take the lead role in representing the town on the North Road issue.
“At the Pinchi community meeting he revealed he had the lot and that he had chosen the woodlot in question so he wouldn’t have to pay to use the road. He’s the one who brought that up,” said Sims.
Although Sim’s acknowledged that MacDougall seeming opposition to a change in the road’s status is in line with her own concerns and those of other residents, she feels that Fort St. James deserves a representative whose motives are beyond implications of a vested financial interest.
The Mayor addressed the issue in his statement during the meeting and, just prior to the meeting spoke to Black Press, acknowledging his financial interest in the road, but denying that the sums involved were significant.
“The road is not located in the municipality and I’m not part of the decision making process (that decision will ultimately be made at the Provincial level),” said MacDougall.
“If this becomes an issue and I’m found to be in conflict I guess my term as mayor will end prematurely because I’m committed to seeing this through. As far as I’m concerned this is a matter of public safety.”
Nechako Lakes MLA, John Rustad, when asked whether he felt MacDougall should take a back seat on the issue, said that he wasn’t certain of whether recusal was necessary.
“It’s important that the community has a strong voice in this issue so I’m really not certain.”
The Mayor had initially refused comment on the issue. At the Wednesday (May 16) council meeting Fort St. James CAO, Kevin Crook, was asked about the concerns that had been voiced by some community residents.
“He doesn’t think it’s a conflict of interest. So, what can I tell you?” he said.