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Joe Smith Creek cutblock listed for BCTS auction by March 31

A gap in responsibilities between provincial ministries has locals concerned that logging the Joe Smith Creek cutblock (TA0521) heightens washout risks along Highway 101.
A map from the 2023 report shows multiple streams originating in the slopes of south Mt. Elphinstone crossing Highway 101.

A gap in responsibilities between provincial ministries has locals concerned that logging of the Joe Smith Creek cutblock (TA0521) will heighten washout risks along Highway 101. And resolving that gap is reaching a critical point as TA0521 is listed on BC Timber Sales (BCTS) sales schedule to come up by March 31.

Opposed to the cutblock's auction schedule are Elphinstone Logging Focus (ELF), the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD), the Sunshine Coast Conservation Association and Elphinstone Community Association as well as others. Those groups want to keep that plot off the sales list until key findings released last year in a BCTS consultant’s report are addressed.

Consultant Polar Geoscience undertook a three-phase review of the South Mount Elphinstone area to evaluate issues like the hydrological hazards and risks of BCTS moving forest sites in the area into harvest mode. In its initial report, the consulting firm identified downslope/downstream elements “at-risk” including “human safety, private property, transportation infrastructure, utilities, water rights & use, agricultural land use, and fish and fish habitat." 

Assessing potential impacts for the transportation network downstream from the cutblocks, Polar stressed that BCTS needed to share the full report with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI), the SCRD and Town of Gibsons. “We recommend the appropriate party consider a stream crossing review to pre-emptively identify and replace undersized or potentially non-functional crossings, especially those which pose higher social or environmental risks with failure," its report stated.

While BCTS provided the report to Coast local governments and MOTI and attended in-person and online meetings to answer questions last year, it pointed out the public road infrastructure review was outside of its jurisdiction. That responsibility, it noted, would fall to MOTI.

But MOTI operations manager Michael Braun stated in a Feb. 5 email shared with Coast Reporter that the organization “is under no obligation to complete works recommended by a third party."

"We are taking the findings of the [Polar Geoscience] report under advisement. Presently, we do not have the funding or capacity to complete full stream crossing review; however, we may consider programming this work in the future should funding become available," said the email.

ELF sees a public safety risk

Until the two provincial entities can agree on how to have the review conducted and paid for, ELF spokesperson Ross Muirhead said the auction of TA0521 cutting rights should be put on hold. In Muirhead's view, to allow logging in those cutblocks before downslope road impacts are identified and mitigated borders on “negligence” on the part of the province.

Logging only one of SCRD's road infrastructure concerns

The SCRD board has also asked that the Joe Smith Creek cutblock be removed from BCTS’s current operating plan. At its Jan. 11 board meeting, local elected representatives agreed to make that request to BCTS and the Ministry of Forests. Included with that was an ask “to undertake hydrogeological studies to evaluate potential impacts of logging the TA0521 blocks on downstream properties, well and surface water users and infrastructure” and “to legally designate TA0521 blocks on Mount Elphinstone as legal, spatial Old Growth Management Area for recruitment purposes." 

The Ministry of Forests confirmed via email on Feb 20 that it had "received the letter from the Sunshine Coast Regional District, and a response is forthcoming."

But the board isn’t ending its search for assistance from the province to protect and upgrade the Coast’s road network with one letter. They are raising two related motions at the upcoming Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities (AVICC) annual general meeting slated to be held in Victoria April 1 to 3. 

In its preamble, one of the SCRD's AVICC motions identifies inadequacies in the funding provided to MOTI “to plan overall road networks in unincorporated areas and to proactively deal with transportation and development planning issues." The motion calls on the province to fund and direct MOTI “to engage with local governments on overall road network planning and subdivision planning in order to improve decision-making to reduce cumulative negative impacts on communities." 

A second locally drafted motion focuses on the lack of a public plan for the upgrading and replacement of rural roads, culverts, and bridges. In that, the regional government is seeking provincial direction to MOTI “to establish a capital asset management plan for secondary road networks across the province." 

BCTS had not replied to a request for comment by publication time.