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Investigation hinging on absent consultant

As the District of Sechelt investigation into blasting practices at Trail Bay Estates (TBE) gets underway, the blasting consultant brought in to oversee operations is emerging as the central character.

As the District of Sechelt investigation into blasting practices at Trail Bay Estates (TBE) gets underway, the blasting consultant brought in to oversee operations is emerging as the central character.

"We're now talking to all people involved - we're looking at [blasting consultant] Scott Parker," said Sechelt bylaw enforcement officer Bruce Haynes. "We need to wait for him to get back - it's important for the investigation." Haynes is trying to ascertain whether TBE and their drilling contractors, Rock Construction and Mining Inc. (RCMI), have violated the District's blasting bylaw during the past year of work done at the site in West Sechelt.

Parker is now working in another part of B.C., while TBE general contractor Al Hemstreet is also unavailable, having left on Nov. 16 for two weeks of vacation. According to Sechelt director of engineering and public works Ken Tang, Parker indicated last week he's willing to come before council when he arrives back on the Coast.

Parker was recommended to the District by WorkSafe B.C. (formerly the Workers Compensation Board of B.C.), who are also now doing an investigation on the site. Haynes said the District will wait to receive a final report from them before wrapping up their own investigation. TBE hired Parker after the District's blasting bylaw, revised in April, specified the developer needed to hire a blasting consultant. Parker was able to drop into the site only occasionally, said Tang, since Parker was working in other parts of B.C. with North Vancouver-based Explosives and Rockwork Technology Ltd.

"I think this was a public relations exercise," said Coun. Keith Thirkell, adding council had trusted Parker to fix problems at the TBE site. "Now we find out he was nowhere near the site most of the time."

In Parker's absence, Hemstreet was to inform Tang whenever a blast was to deviate from Parker's blasting plan - a plan that seems to have become derailed over the past year. "Since [the revised blasting bylaw came into effect], quite a few blasting infractions have still gone unchecked," said Kim King, who's been speaking on behalf of residents affected by the blasts. Though RCMI's bylaw violations are still allegations at this point, their methods appear to be out of sync with common blasting practice in B.C.

Ron Woolf, a general manager with Burnaby-based Pacific Blasting and Demolition, said his company uses holes no larger than two inches in diameter for urban containment blasting. Sechelt's blasting bylaw called for holes no larger than 2.75 inches across, while RCMI has been accused of blasting in three inch holes.

Woolf said blast matting is also used "wherever we think rock could get away," he said. "This is common practice, or at least it should be."

When asked whether the District was satisfied with the job Parker has done in monitoring blasting on the TBE site, Tang said "I think it's best for me not to comment." "I'm still under investigation myself," he said, adding, "[blasting consultants] are professional people, and it's in their interest to use their best practices." He said if infractions have occurred, it's not due to a fault with the bylaw.

Meanwhile, most residents affected by blasting in Phase 1A - which covers roughly the southern half of the site - have submitted written notice to TBE, an action King and Tang both encourage affected residents to undertake in order to have a post-blast inspector assess damage to their homes or properties.

"I want to encourage residents to make sure they have received their letter from [TBE] and to file their written notice to them within the 60 days allowed under the bylaw," he said.

King said she's glad to see the letters arrive but anticipates a long legal battle ahead - one she hopes will set a precedent for future development in West Sechelt.

"We're not against development," she said. "We're against the lack of due diligence being shown for this development."

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