Discussions centred around the abundant safety concerns surrounding Canfor’s proposed change of the Germansen-North Road from a public highway to a Forest Service Road absolutely dominated the May 17 North Road public meeting.
The meeting, which included presentations from Canfor, Apollo, Conifex and Mt. Milligan, as well as local residents and politicians, was held by the Fort St. James district to promote a public discourse after countless members of the community voiced concern over the proposed change.
Canfor’s proposed plan, which was briefly detailed at the beginning of the public meeting, suggested changes in the forest harvesting industry would make the Germansen-North Road an instrumental route for their future business.
This change would allow Canfor to increase the cubic meters per load on each of their logging trucks, which would subsequently reduce the number of trucks needed to perform their designated tasks.
However, for the residents of Fort St. James and many of the presenters on hand, safety was the number one concern.
“Concern for public safety is number one,” said Heather Reekle, a local resident. “There are too many members of the general public and children travelling this road daily. Each and every one of them will be effected by this.”
“Longer logging trucks and wider loads increase this risk even further.”
Reekle also brought up a valuable piece of information concerning insurance coverage if an individual were to get into an accident on the proposed Forest Service Road.
“Insurance for an accident with an uninsured, under insured or unidentified motorist on a Forest Service Road or industrial road is nonexistent, because it does not fall under the definition of a highway,” said Reekle. “There is no product from ICBC available to cover you for this.”
“If you have a collision with an uninsured, under insured or unidentified motorist or motor vehicle, you are not insured because the incident occurred on a Forest Service Road and not a highway,” said Reekle.
Nak’azdli Whut’en Chief Alexander McKinnon was also quick to dismiss Canfor’s proposed plan and enforce the notion of a safety first approach.
“The only time Canfor comes around is when they want something from us,” said McKinnon, “You (Canfor) don’t invest in our community, you don’t invest in anything. You take, you leave, you take you leave. To me, that’s not right.”
“We need to talk about how to do this process together and we need to do it better to ensure the safety of everyone in our community. Safety is the number one issue,” said McKinnon.
Valerie Crowley, a resident of Pinchi Lake, stared that year-round access to the Germansen-North Road is also a major concern for those who live further up the road.
“According to the Regional District of Bulkley Nechako, we have 126 homes … that rely on the Germansen-North Road 365 days a year,” said Crowley. “It needs to be safely accessible to us, so that we may get to critical services, emergency services, health care, education, employment. Food, fuel, post. We’re driving this everyday, it needs to be drive-able.”
Kalin Uhrich, Chief Forester for Canfor, presented and was listening intently as other residents who attended the meeting asked further questions about the proposal.
“Part of what we want from today is to be able to come out and talk to you folks about your concerns directly and hear what you have to say,” said Uhrich. “Someone asked a question online and, I’m paraphrasing, ‘Do you take this seriously?’ Absolutely we take this seriously.”
In his closing statements, Uhrich stated that he is more than willing to work with the community of Fort St. James and the surrounding locals to examine what can be done to mitigate the concerns regarding the proposal.
“We are willing to sit down and work with locals of all stripes and all backgrounds to try and figure out what the solutions are,” said Uhrich. “Safety, we heard it over and over again, is clearly the number one concern. We get that, totally.”