Frustrated North Island politicians took some hefty swings at Western Forest Products this week over the company’s actions following the closure of Vancouver Island’s last logging train and the fatal tragedy that preceded it.
Western Forest Products officials speaking to the Regional District of Mount Waddington board Tuesday had their presentation interrupted by a barrage of questions in a meeting that lasted nearly two hours. Concerns centred around a pending logging truck traffic safety plan, the consultation process regarding a project to honour the Englewood train, and a general sense in the North Island that WFP isn’t living up to its social contract with the community.
Port McNeill Mayor Shirley Ackland noted the consultation scheduled in Woss coincided with the anniversary of the Englewood train logging accident, where three people were killed last April when the train derailed.
“We aren’t talking about the big things, we are talking about auxiliary issues,” Port Hardy Mayor Hank Bood told the WFP delegation. “Right now there has been a major change in the perception of the social licence we are giving WFP to operate, and I think it’s on you to make the big decisions that make the North Island comfortable.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever been to a regional district board meeting in the 20 years I’ve been here where there has been such animosity between a major employer and the regional district and it’s uncomfortable.”
The session came on the heels of a heated board meeting in November, where WFP addressed the closure of the Englewood train.
On Tuesday, Clint Cadwallader, WFP’s Regional Manager for the North Island, gave the presentation on the road safety plan, and Kindry Mercer, Manager of Regional Initiatives, addressed an Englewood train legacy project.
“We heard the concerns loud and clear from the group, from the community, from employees, and part of what we are doing here today is to talk about what we’ve done around road safety since initial concerns were brought forward,” said Cadwallader.
He added the road safety plan was designed specifically for the North Island and includes using ID placards on all contract and company trucks, engagement with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI), and a safety assessment that looks at every access point where logging trucks could enter and exit the highways.
The fact logging truck traffic continued prior to the plan did not sit well with the RDMW.
“It’s incredibly dangerous right now, and you are on the road,” said Ackland, adding, “I think if WFP were committed to safety, they would have pulled back and put some of those things in place before you actually had the trucks on the highway.”
RDMW Chairman Andrew Hory, questioned if the impact of wear-and-tear on the road from the increased logging traffic was factored into the study.
“What we are moving towards is the industry standard across the province,” replied Cadwallader. “It can absolutely be done safely. We are targeting in on the highest priority safety concerns with the change in practices.”
Mercer added the focus on road quality “will be involving MOTI. They are the responsible agency for our highways and we are willing to work with them and have those discussions.”
Cadwallader said WFP accounted for roughly 60 per cent of the logging traffic on the highway, and the placard program would help identify WFP trucks from other industrial users.
Hory followed up his earlier question by asking how many additional logging trucks would be using the highway on the North Island.
Cadlwallader explained there’s big seasonal variations, so the numbers vary wildly across the North Island.
“From Woss up to Beaver Cove there are 18 company trucks,” said Mercer, pointing out they are doing a combined 108 loads per day for that section. “And for Jeune Landing, Holberg, and Port McNeill, there are 17 highway trucks total in that area.”
Ackland asked if there would be more trucks put on the highway when WFP decreases the number of fat trucks (off highway trucks) in use.
“I can tell you that the number could escalate as high as 25 for North Island forest operations,” responded Cadwallader.
Earlier in the meeting, Hory had noted WFP’s Vice-President Shannon Janzen’s presence was missed.
“It’s not a question of whether Shannon should be here, she should be here,” said Ackland, adding, “This is a public resource and the only way you are going to get our trust back is if you sit with us all at the table – come and talk to the elected representatives and ask us for input.”
Cadwallader responded, stating, “We are going to bring senior leadership here, we are going to talk about what social licence is, and we are going to have that conversation – We need to start at that level … We have a common goal and we have senior leadership that is willing to come back and sit and listen.”
WFP’s presentation on the road safety plan and initiative to honour the Englewood train’s history is available to view on the RDMW’s website rdmw.bc.ca.