British Columbia's forests minister discusses cancelling, renegotiating Meadow Creek Cedar's forest license to increase community ownership

NELSON, British Columbia , November 18, 2011 () – Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall says there is a chance Meadow Creek Cedar’s forest license could be cancelled and renegotiated with the community — but it won’t happen anytime soon.

Mungall made the comment following a half-hour meeting with Forests Minister Steve Thomson on Thursday to discuss the troubled company.

Joining them were NDP forestry critic Norm Macdonald, Kootenay Lake district forest manager Garth Wiggil, and the minister’s executive assistant.

Mungall says the meeting focused on the company’s failure to meet silviculture requirements and the future of its license.

“What’s going to happen to the community if the license is cancelled? Who’s in charge of taking over the obligations? Will the license be for sale or is there a possible of renegotiating it so the community can have greater ownership?”

Mungall said she was “very pleased” to learn there is at least a chance of the latter, but it’s “quite a ways down the road.”

“That is not in the immediate future. This is over the course of a few years,” she said.

Meadow Creek Cedar was fined $2,100 in 2009 for failing to complete results reporting on its silviculture practices. The maximum penalty was $105,000 but an appeals board upheld the nominal amount because it was a first offence.

However, compliance and enforcement staff are now investigating five other alleged breaches, the most serious of which also involves reforestation requirements. The cases are expected to come before the district manager this winter for decisions.

Mungall says from there, the legislation defines options available to the Ministry in terms of license suspensions or cancellations.

“Often they suspend pending a notice to comply,” she says. “Companies are given a certain time frame to comply, which varies.”

If such an order was issued to Meadow Creek now, the company would likely be granted eight months to allow for planting, she explained. However, the time frame might be shorter for a compliance notice issued in the spring.

If the company still doesn’t comply, the license can be cancelled — but then taxpayers are on the hook to meet silvicultural obligations. However, the government has a fund set aside for these types of situations, Mungall says.

“It’s not like suddenly we’re going to pay more. That fund is already there.”

On the whole, she felt the meeting went well.

“There are multiple [ways] to work with ministers, whether it’s holding them accountable in question period or identifying long-term possibilities,” Mungall says. “I think this is a very broad, non-partisan issue that impacts the community.”

Although she has spoken to locals who feel the Ministry should be moving faster, Mungall says they are bound by legislation.

“What’s important is they follow the steps laid out in the Act. Whether I agree with the Act at this stage is moot, because the Ministry has to follow it. It’s not going to be changed in the near future.”

However, she says Macdonald, her party’s forestry critic, sees it as a “learning opportunity” that could lead to strengthened legislation.

Mungall adds that while she won’t hesitate to hold the Ministry’s feet to the fire, she’s satisfied staff are concerned, and she’ll continue to work with Wiggil.

The forests minister wasn’t available for comment Thursday.

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