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SCRD trying to halt watershed logging

A private logging operation in the Chapman Creek watershed, upstream from the intake pipe for the regional water reservoir, has raised concerns about the security of the Sunshine Coast's drinking water.

A private logging operation in the Chapman Creek watershed, upstream from the intake pipe for the regional water reservoir, has raised concerns about the security of the Sunshine Coast's drinking water.

The Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) held a special board meeting behind closed doors March 4 to discuss how to respond to the logging. After the in camera session, the board announced its decision to try to halt the logging, either by negotiating an agreement to supply the logging company with "alternative fibre" or by seeking a court injunction.

The logging is taking place on private land formerly owned by Canadian Forest Products. Last year Canfor logged the first cutblock, which is on gently sloping land east of Chapman Creek. Early in 2004, Canfor sold that property, together with other Sunshine Coast forest land totalling about 880 hectares, to AJB Investments Ltd., a division of Sure Span, a West Vancouver based bridge building company.

In February, AJB began logging two new cutblocks, each about nine hectares. The new logging is adjacent to the older Canfor cutblock, on steeper slopes and closer to a side creek, which flows into the Chapman.

Bob White, manager for AJB's Sechelt operations, said his company presented its logging plans to the SCRD Jan. 18, and "there were no concerns at that time."

But Dave Crosby, SCRD's infrastructure operations co-ordinator, said he first learned of the logging in late February after being tipped off.

"It's always a concern if they're logging in the watershed," said Crosby. "They also have land on the other side of the creek that's in the district watershed, and the slopes are more severe."

AJB is not currently logging its land on the west side of Chapman Creek.

"The areas that are the most sensitive are not being touched," said White, adding that the logging operation is "well within all codes that are being followed in watersheds."

"We're not trying to do anything underhanded," said White. "It's well within the rights of a landowner."

The SCRD board fears the logging could harm the quality or quantity of the water in Chapman Creek.

John Marian, regional director for Halfmoon Bay, said the water quality might suffer if runoff from the logged land increases the amount of sediment in the creek.

"More important, in my mind, is the quantity of the water supply," said Marian. "Last summer, despite the heavy drought, we had no real difficulty with the water supply. There has been an improvement in the forest cover. It slows the rate of percolation, helps the soil retain water longer and release it over a longer period of time."

The Sechelt Indian Band is also investigating the logging.

"Our biggest concern was of course the fish, and then the water intake is not too far down," said Keith Julius, a fisheries field technician working for the band. He said the side stream has Dolly Varden living in it for the bottom 20 metres.

Julius toured the cutblock last week with Ken Sneddon, the logging contractor, and Dave Crosby.

Julius said he saw no obvious problems with run-off from the cutblocks, but added, "It's after the harvesting is all done you usually see the impact."

"We're concerned there will be a lot of silt and mud clogging up the pipe system. This is a community watershed so you have to be careful," said Julius. "The area is basically clay and sand, and that doesn't help. When you have gravel on top of clay, it's much easier for it to slide off. Being private land, they can pretty well go in there and do as they please. Hopefully people have some common sense."

Crosby said he has not seen any problems with the water supply caused by this logging.

"There is no evidence of debris flowing from the site," he said.

Local environmentalists were livid over the logging.

Jim Reeve, who stumbled across the clearcuts when he went for a drive up the mountain two weeks ago, said he was taken aback to see logging so close to the regional water intake.

"I'm familiar with that part of the community watershed," said Reeve. "I was surprised. It's well inside the boundary of the community watershed."

Dan Bouman, executive director of the Sunshine Coast Conservation Association, said "Everybody feels kind of blindsided."

"We have an eruption of greed and ignorance happening in the watershed right now," said Bouman. "The public gets stuck with the liability for this sort of thing. They're moving into a steeper, more unstable part of the watershed. It could increase the sediment loading into Chapman Creek. We're already paying a huge cost to pay for water treatment facilities [for water problems] caused by logging."