Nfld. & Labrador

Council, minister clash over planned forestry road in Port Blandford

A provincial government plan to truck logs out a Nalcor-built dirt road has Port Blandford's town council threatening legal action — and a government minister urging them to bring forward evidence.

Fisheries and Land Resources wants to use Nalcor road for log hauling

Port Blandford Mayor Chad Holloway says the Nalcor access road configuration in his community is not safe for increased traffic. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

A provincial government plan to truck logs out a Nalcor-built dirt road has Port Blandford's town council threatening legal action — and a government minister urging them to bring forward evidence.

Newfoundland and Labrador's Department of Fisheries and Land Resources has endorsed a commercial wood harvesting plan that would use a Nalcor access road to bring timber from two sites onto the Trans-Canada Highway.

Port Blandford Mayor Chad Holloway said the plan creates a dangerous, high-traffic intersection within his town boundaries; Fisheries and Land Resources Minister Gerry Byrne says it's the exact same traffic that rolled without a hitch when Nalcor used the road to build the Labrador-Island Link.

"As it is right now, it's not safe," Holloway said from the dirt road on Thursday. "This intersection is located on a hill, on a turn."

"The roadway was used arguably much more heavily when the transmission line was under construction," Byrne said Thursday afternoon. "The roadway was used for heavy equipment and large transportation trucks and other pieces of equipment, and that's what the road is being used for again today." 

Combined, the two commercial harvesting operations will remove about 8,000 cubic metres of wood from the Southwest River valley area. According to Holloway, that will take about 440 two-way trips for the type of truck that's commonly used to haul wood in the Port Blandford area.

Byrne said the department expects there will be four log haulers using the road each day.

Transport trucks drive along the Trans-Canada where the Nalcor access road meets the highway. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

"We're just blown away that, you know, they would even be approved to use this," Holloway said. He argues the location of the intersection — halfway down a slope on the TCH, and immediately before a two-lane bridge — makes the situation worse.

Holloway said town council hasn't hired a traffic consultant to study the intersection.

While the harvesting operation will take place outside town boundaries, the road leading to it is inside. Holloway said town council learned of the proposed use only at the end of August.

"We're looking at it saying, 'Why are they even going ahead with this?' They know the opposition that the town has against it, and yet, it seems like that they just want to get that wood out basically by any means necessary," he told CBC Radio's Newfoundland Morning.

No cutting at all?

According to Holloway, a solution to the problem isn't as simple as rerouting or moving the access road. The road is wedged between private land and a salmon river.

Holloway said his community is a tourist town, and he doesn't want cutting in that area at all — but he's firm that his safety objections are genuine.

"Our residents are travelling towards Clarenville, I mean it's quite possible that one of our residents could get hurt there. The other side of it is the contractors themselves. We don't want to see them injured," he said.

"Our volunteer fire department are the ones that got to respond to these incidents. I know since I've become mayor, we've had two separate fatalities on the Trans-Canada just in this section here along Port Blandford."

Holloway says his town is primarily a tourism community, and up to 100 jobs in the area can be attributed to tourism. (Submitted by Linda Davis)

Meanwhile, Gerry Byrne said the town council has an obligation to bring forward evidence if there's a serious safety risk at the access road site.

"If there are specifics that could be brought forward as to how the road operated safely under Nalcor but might operate unsafely as a forestry road … that cannot be left unsaid," he said.

Byrne said he was confident that if solid evidence came forward, regulators would take appropriate actions.

Fisheries and Land Resources Minister Gerry Byrne says the provincial government has consulted with Port Blandford residents in the past, and has made changes to their plans — but the interests of harvesters in the 'working forest' should be considered as well. (Gary Locke/CBC)

"I can't work on beliefs, I have to work on evidence. This is a regulatory process … Nobody here is interested in operating on an unsafe road."

Holloway said town council believes Fisheries and Land Resources needs to apply to Service NL for a permit to use the access road for silviculture. He plans to contest that application — and if that doesn't work, he said, the town is speaking to a lawyer about what other avenues are available.

Opposition weighs in

Lloyd Parrott, the Progressive Conservative MHA for Terra Nova, said the provincial government should be consulting residents in the area more.

"The people making the decisions are far removed from the people who have got to put up with the consequences and it's not a good way to govern," he said, adding the government should make its case for why timber harvesting is needed in that area at all.

"There's a very [easy] solution by just moving to another area," he said. "If Nalcor roads are what are going to be used going forward for deforestation, it's going to open up a lot of areas of the province that have never been opened before."

A view of the Nalcor transmission line through Port Blandford. Holloway says the Nalcor access road was built specifically for construction of that line, and he says council does not like the government's attempt to repurpose it. (Sandra Greening/Facebook)

Byrne said the government has already made significant changes to the forestry plan in the area due to public feedback, such as increasing buffer zones, but added the interests of the forestry industry should be considered as well.

Holloway said council approved the construction of the access road only after assurances from Nalcor that it was going to be used exclusively for the Labrador-Island Link project. 

He said forestry use is a fundamental change — just like a homeowner trying to start a business in a residential zone.

Byrne disagrees.

"I think the question you'd have to ask yourself … is the fundamental purpose of the road changed? It's for the transit of vehicles. That is what roadways do."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

About the Author

Garrett Barry

Journalist

Garrett Barry is a CBC reporter based in Gander.

With files from Newfoundland Morning

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.