The District of Clearwater (DOC) is putting out a call to residents to take part in a letter-writing campaign to make the provincial government aware of the hardships residents are facing after the Canfor mill closure in Vavenby as well as the potential hardships that would arise if Interfor gets cutting rights to Canfor’s forest tenure in the area.
Mayor Merlin Blackwell had a talk with the deputy Minister of Forests Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development recently where he strongly suggested the need for a direct line so the public can comment on the situation, with the government saying it’d likely open a web portal so residents can voice their opinions.
“What we’re trying to do now is make it a little fairer because I think it’s actually tilted into not being fair at this point for North Thompson Valley residents,” said Blackwell, noting Interfor has already gathered letters from the councils of Chase and Salmon Arm supporting the $60 million deal for Canfor’s local forest tenure.
“I’m hoping the citizens of the North Thompson Valley and those affected by this will start sending in their sincere thoughts and a lot of that is how this affects them directly or indirectly because it reaches into so many things.”
Another part of the situation Blackwell said he finds frustrating involves Bill 22, which gives the Minister of Forests final say in deals like the one between Canfor and Interfor for the forest tenure, based on whether or not the deal is in the public interest.
More specifically it’s the lack of transparency that’s frustrating, he said, especially since the DOC found out only a few weeks ago that it’s up to industry to consult with stakeholders to help determine if the deal is in the public interest.
In this case, Interfor is representing the industry doing the consulting and while they’ve had meetings with Chase and Salmon Arm—two of the communities who’ll benefit from the deal—the company has yet to meet with DOC or Vavenby to discuss the impacts it would have on the North Thompson communities.
It’s because of this lack of local consultation Blackwell said he pushed to get an avenue for comment for the residents of the North Thompson Valley, adding he’d also like to see a meeting between the public and government so residents can voice concerns face-to-face.
“Unfortunately to my understanding from the conversations I’ve had, is government is getting the vast majority of their information from Interfor, the ‘pro’ side on this, and they haven’t really opened a channel for everyone,” Blackwell said.
“Even the DOC understands the mill isn’t going to reopen in Vavenby, this deal is probably going forward, so what we’re trying to do is get the best possible benefits package for our citizens, the best deal between Canfor, Interfor, DOC and the province, so we can get what we can out of a bad situation for the citizens of Clearwater and Vavenby.”
Some of the things that could come from the deal could be setting up a local pellet plant or chipping yard, as Blackwell noted there’s a lot of wood in the area that has little use outside of being turned into wood chips, as well as an investment from the provincial government to help the tourism sector by creating jobs to address safety, fuel mitigation and improving forest service roads (FSRs).
There’s also work that needs to be done as part of Wells Gray Park’s Wildfire Risk Management Plan, which could potentially employ 50 to 60 people and is similar to work already done by logging contractors, so retraining people wouldn’t be an issue.
“We don’t need any charity, we just need enough things to keep us safe and keep the economy going forward and have those things happen before we start to have a drain on our towns of the critical people here that make this place work,” said Blackwell.