Council, minister clash over planned forestry road in Port Blandford
Fisheries and Land Resources wants to use Nalcor road for log hauling
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."
From the intersection itself, here's Port Blandford Mayor Chad Holloway making his case that the Nalcor access road isn't safe for wood trucking. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/cbcnl?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#cbcnl</a> <a href="https://t.co/xAvHWqmehZ">pic.twitter.com/xAvHWqmehZ</a>—@GarrettBarry
"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.
"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."
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.
"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."
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.
"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."
With files from Newfoundland Morning