BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Time for a new approach

Columnist Richard Rolke provides some thoughts on the provincial government's handling of a logging road in Cherryville

A new year is a time for reflection and  to consider areas for self-improvement.

It’s a process many people go through as the previous 12 months wind down and the next dozen begin. But a case could be made that resolutions shouldn’t be confined to just individuals, but should be embraced by all levels of government, companies, clubs and charities.

Case in point is B.C. Timber Sales, the provincial agency that’s initiated construction of a logging road on Cherryville’s Cherry Ridge for ultimate harvesting.

The Ministry of Forests insists a proper process has been followed when it comes to engineering and selecting the site for the road. It also maintains that there is minimal risk of a landslide occurring and threatening property and lives in the valley bottom.

“BCTS has completed third-party professional assessments on terrain stability and hydrology, and have had the road professionally designed. BCTS is satisfied that these plans are appropriate to address all of the values,” states the ministry.

There’s likely no question that BCTS followed due diligence and investigated any potential hazards if logging proceeds on Cherry Ridge. After all, it’s not in the government’s best interest to open itself to liability.

However, is just following standard procedures sufficient?

Many residents of Cherryville aren’t convinced that BCTS’ studies completely negate the possible threat, partly because of a nearby landslide in 2012 that forced some residents from their homes.

They are calling on BCTS to temporarily back off road construction and further scrutinize the slope based on local, first-hand knowledge of Cherry Ridge.

“They look past the person who has lived for decades at the foot of Cherry Ridge, ranges her cattle on the hill, and actually rode on her father’s knee on the bulldozer as he cut the original road,” said resident Tim Staker in a recent letter to the editor.

“There are hundreds of these folks out here, each with their own piece of wisdom, who are being looked past and who would never be considered experts.”

Among those who knows Cherry Ridge like the back of his hand is Eugene Foisy, Cherryville’s former regional district director. He is a logger, a game guide and played a key role in establishing a community forest.

Prior to leaving office in November, he expressed frustration that local knowledge is being trumped by out-of-town consultants.

“It’s very disappointing. We’re not being heard,” said Foisy.

“It’s a pretty sad state of affairs when the provincial government won’t listen to its constituents. It’s bullying.”

Now it should be pointed out that Cherryville residents aren’t tree-huggers as the community economically depends on logging. However, they want assurances that harvesting is sustainable and doesn’t pose a public threat.

Obviously, BCTS is right to use third-party consultants when considering opening an area up to logging as it allows the sciences of hydrology and geology to be considered thoroughly. But along with this, there should be the ability for government officials to meet with local residents who don’t have an axe to grind but have constructive, applicable knowledge of a specific area that would relate to harvesting activities. It would go a long ways towards alleviating concerns.

All Cherryville residents have been asking for is an opportunity to be directly involved in something right in their own backyard.

Maybe BCTS will see 2015 as a time to reconsider how it communicates directly with the community.