The Fort St. James Council is hosting a public meeting on May 17 between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. at the Fort St. James Community Centre (190 Stuart Drive East), to solicit public input on the proposal by Canfor to fundamentally change the status and use patterns of the North Road (also known as the Germanson Highway).
The move follows another public meeting that was held last week at the Nak’azdli First Nation on the same subject, where those in attendance voiced considerable concern regarding the proposal.
“This was supposed to be an Open House where Canfor provided us with some answers, but the way they set it up was totally inadequate and didn’t really provide us with the answers we were looking for,” said Chief Alexander McKinnon.
“This comes down to the safety of our members and we are not convinced that it’s in the best interest of our community for this to happen. The Province has a responsibility to ensure safety on their road and they can’t just give up that responsibility by giving the road over to a forestry company.”
Councillor Dave Birdi, said that his biggest concern with the proposal involves road maintenance.
“At the moment the Province has the responsibility for road maintenance. It’s maintained as a public road, but at what level would the services be maintained should Canfor take over that responsibility?,” asked Birdi.
“It’s particularly concerning over the winter months when snow clearing becomes an issue. And also, what happens if and when Canfor decides it doesn’t need the road? Do they just dump it back in the government’s lap? There are a lot of questions to be answered.”
Birdi went on to note that the Canfor proposal calls for more heavily laden lumber trucks on the roadway that would move at slower speeds and questioned what the impact would be, both on the roadway and the safety of other traffic.
In a February 7th open letter to the community, Canfor said that changes in forest harvesting would make the Gemanson-North Road an ever -more significant route for logging trucks. They projected a 40 per cent increase in traffic by Canfor and intimated that other (unnamed) “industrial traffic” would also increase.
They maintained that long “cycle times” and concerns around driver fatigue had motivated their call to increase both the number of days Canfor is able to haul and the volume of timber hauled on each truck.
Approached for an interview on the current situation, Canfor issued a statement that read, in part:
“Over the past decade or so, licensees have been focusing harvesting efforts in the areas hardest hit by the mountain pine beetle. Now that those areas have been salvaged, harvesting on tenure areas will move north of Fort St James. We are forecasting a material increase in the volume of timber and other industrial traffic that we will need to move through the road network in the region, and we believe there needs to be some changes made to accommodate this increased activity.”
In February, Fort St. James Council responded Canfor with a letter of their own in which they drew into question the veracity of Canfor’s predictions for increased traffic flow and questioned the real reasons for Canfor’s request to take over the road.
“Council is not convinced that there will be an increase in industrial traffic if traffic patterns stay the same given that the annual allowable cut for the next five years in the Prince George Timber Supply Area is 8.35 million cubic meters or an 8% reduction from the 2016 level … If all industrial traffic is forced to use the “Hat Lake Connector … then there will be a dramatic increase in traffic on the Germanson-North Road from 39 km south thus a comparable level of risk and safety concerns to the travelling public.
Canfor trucks are presently utilizing the Hat Lake Connector to deliver logs from the Leo Creek FSR area to Fort St James and south. This route adds a further 30 minutes to each trip so when they say they are concerned about longer cycle times contributing to driver fatigue their present hauling pattern adds one hour per day for the operator on a two trip per haul day.”
They also stated that, should Canfor’s request be granted, “the control of this critical transportation route would shift from Government to an out of town company that is strictly profit driven and would minimize the ability for local residents and workers who travel this road daily to have any input regarding road maintenance, upgrades, season of operation and seasonal weight restrictions.”
Contacted for a comment, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure responded with the following statement:
“Changes in legislation and regulations of a public road can depend on the primary use of the road.
Industry has put forth a proposal to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure and the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development requesting to convert Germansen Landing Road to a Forest Service Road. Industry is now conducting a comprehensive public consultation process. Once the consultation process is complete, industry will submit the rest of their proposal documentation to both ministries.
The Ministry does not have a position or any involvement with the proposal and no decision has been made yet. Both ministries will thoroughly review and consider all aspects of the process and proposal prior to a final decision.”
No timeline has been set for when a final decision would be made regarding this request.
The May 17 public meeting will feature presentations by Canfor Corp., Conifex Timber, Apollo Forest Products, Centerra Gold-Mt. Milligan, Nak’azdli Whut’en and local residents of the North Road.
There is a possibility for a question and answer period, but Fort St. James Council has asked that questions be submitted, in writing, ahead of the meeting.