At the Village of Port Alice council meeting on May 27, the room was packed with council members, residents, and representatives from Western Forest Products (WFP) occupying all available seating and standing room, gathered to hear new developments about proposed logging within the village boundary.
Some residents are concerned that the proposed logging could lead to landslides and serious consequences for nearby residences.
The meeting began with a delegation from WFP making a presentation about proposed logging on blocks 43738 and 43696.
Representatives from WFP present were Planning Manager Jim McDowell, Senior Operations Planner Jonathan Flintoft, Jeune Landing Area Planner Chris Peterson, and Jeune Landing Manager Vince Devlin. Flintoft was the main speaker for the delegation.
This issue began with an application for a development permit by WFP in March to allow them to harvest timber owned on land they own.
However, the land in question is within a Development Approval Information Area. In their original application package, a Terrain Stability Assessment (TSA) report was included for blocks 43738 and 43696 as well as the roads that WFP would potentially develop. This report was then given a peer review by Western Geotechnical Consultants Ltd., who recommended a Risk Assessment study to determine how much of a potential hazard there may be to nearby homes. WFP provided this Risk Assessment report on May 8, after which Western Geotechnical Consultants Ltd. gave a written response to WFP’s application and reports on May 21 that includes several recommendations.
At the May 27 meeting, Flintoft and the other representatives explained some of their views and the details of the proposed logging project. They said that if a development permit was issued, WFP would begin work about three months from that point.
WFP also elaborated on some more details, including that the whole program would be mechanical, which means that it would disturb the terrain less than other development techniques. They also said that they would need to consider details like increased traffic on Marine Drive and notifying residents in advance of blasting. Other details include dealing with fire hazards as the area is faces west and handling debris, as burning it is not a good option.
The May 21 geotechnical review by Western Geotechnical Consultants Ltd. provided five recommendations and conclusions to the council. They acknowledged that there is a history of landslides in the area, including through the area where the proposed harvest blocks are. They also mentioned that if public safety is a downslope consequence, then “a high level of due diligence is required…”, and recommended that a Landslide Risk Assessment should be completed to address both the hazard and level of risk associated with the development.
After the delegation from WFP, Mayor Jan Allen opened the room up to questions, with a preface that “this is not normal,” as question period generally occurs at the end of the meeting. One resident said that she was extremely concerned about her house shaking and falling rocks. WFP representatives responded by saying that they would be using “less volatile” blasting products that will result in smaller blasts and minimal vibrations. In response to a question about whether the potential logging would remove material that would create a buffer against landslides, WFP echoed what they wrote in their May 8 Risk Assessment report; that they believe that a landslide above the proposed development would reach the ocean even if the area were not harvested because of the size of the slide and the velocity of material.
Resident Robin Mackenzie spoke next, asking “Why are we waking up the giant?” He said that he did not understand why WFP would log this sensitive area when they have so much other land, before asking if the town needed a repeat of the 2010 slide that cut off the main road through town. “Keep everybody safe. Leave the road and leave the town alone,” he said.
After Mackenzie spoke, Allen brought the conversation to a close.
“If we don’t go forward and ask for an LRA [Landslide Risk Assessment], we wouldn’t be doing our due diligence as council,” adding that she suggests that Western Geotechnical Consultants Ltd. carry it out as they now have familiarity with the proposal.
Mayor Allen concluded discussion of the issue by making it clear to the council and those gathered that council has not yet given WFP a development permit and is still asking for more information.