British Columbia's forests minister 'comfortable' that allegations relating to Meadow Creek Cedar's forest practices are being taken seriously

NELSON, British Columbia , November 22, 2011 () – BC’s forests minister says he’s satisfied appropriate steps are being taken to investigate alleged infractions by Meadow Creek Cedar.

Steve Thomson made the comment following a meeting Thursday with Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall and Norm Macdonald, the NDP forestry critic.

“We recognize and share the concerns they brought forward,” he told the Star. “The investigation continues. At this point, my position is to let that investigation be completed and we’ll review the information that comes forward.”

Thomson said the concerns have been raised previously, and he was aware of them prior to the meeting, “but we need to investigate fully and properly and then consider the information once those reports have been provided.”

Five separate investigations are underway by compliance and enforcement staff into the company’s forest practices. The most serious, alleging failure to meet requirements around replanting trees, will come before district manager Garth Wiggil on December 13 for a hearing.

Although the company will have a chance then to respond to the allegations, Wiggil can still issue a decision if they don’t show up.

Other investigations, which are also expected to come up for decisions this winter, involve a road issue, a possible trespass, winter range obligations, and possibly exceeding site disturbance standards.

Thomson said he believed existing legislation is sufficient to handle the situation.

“The provisions are there. If the allegations are correct, we’ll be in a position to take appropriate action,” he said.

In the event that a forest license is cancelled, Thomson said a variety of options would be presented to him. He added he has not heard directly from Meadow Creek Cedar, nor discussed the allegations with them, leaving it up to regional staff.

“I’m comfortable that it’s being taken seriously and being investigated,” he said.

Although regional director Andy Shadrack has raised concerns that the company is preparing to apply for a cutting permit in the Fletcher Creek area, Mungall says from her discussions with forestry staff, nothing has yet materialized.

However, Wiggil committed to keeping her informed. Mungall says she was told it is difficult to ultimately deny a cutting permit unless a license is suspended or cancelled.

In the event of a suspension, a company is given a deadline to become compliant, and failing that, a 90-day notice of cancellation.

Afterward, the license could be renegotiated with the community or opened up to another company.

“The community has said if a good operator came along and followed the law and respected its workers, they would be thrilled,” Mungall said.

“If that’s not possible, the community wants to identify steps where they can have greater ownership. I think that’s a possible solution if there are no viable purchasers and the license is cancelled — two big ifs.”

She has heard there may be other interested parties.

Mungall emphasized the Ministry must proceed according to its own legislation, or risk opening itself up to litigation.

“The worst case scenario, if the Ministry does something they should not, lands them in a prolonged court battle which doesn’t solve the issues. The license was granted under this legislation, so we have to follow it, like it or not.”

Mungall describes the Meadow Creek Cedar case as a “non-partisan issue” and “huge learning opportunity” for her party’s forestry critic and caucus.

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