Port Blandford made 'scapegoat' in controversial wood-cutting plan, town says
Mayor says town kept in dark about clear-cutting, vows to fight provincial plan
The mayor of Port Blandford says the Newfoundland and Labrador government has used his town council as a scapegoat in the public backlash against forest harvesting plans in central Newfoundland — and is now pledging to fight the proposals that council initially approved.
Chad Holloway said that despite contrary statements from government officials, members of his town council were never told that controversial clear-cutting was planned near the community, and wouldn't have signed off on the forestry plans for the area if they were informed.
"Council trusted that the provincial government was going to protect our town, but instead they used council as a scapegoat," Holloway said in a news release.
The release alleges provincial government employees told opponents of clear-cutting that the Port Blandford town council had reviewed, and signed off on, the forestry plans.
"The town council of Port Blandford reviewed the forestry management plan and did actually recommend some modifications, some amendments, which were accepted," Gerry Bryne, the minister of fisheries and land resources, told the legislature on Tuesday.
"This is what really upset us the most," Holloway said in an interview with CBC Radio's Central Morning Show. "Because first of all forestry was saying 'Well, council knew about this.' Well, no, we didn't know about this."
Clear-cutting not spelled out
In its statement, the town said councillors did read and recommend changes to the initial plan, but never realized that clear-cutting was part of the proposal.
"If you go through the plan, It's a very lengthy document and I've gone through it several times myself, and there's no indication whatsoever that there was going to be any type of clear-cutting in that area," Holloway said.
The proposal is that 158,000 cubic metres of wood be harvested from four distinct areas surrounding Port Blandford. Opponents of the plan say it will damage the countryside where they hunt and fish.
A group of residents from Port Blandford formed a group in mid-February to fight the plan, saying the clear cutting could take place near a cabin area and salmon river.
Holloway said with forest harvesting set to begin as early as this spring, he will exhaust all options to stop clear cutting.
He told CBC's Central Morning that Port Blandford is now in the process of changing land-use rules to make sure council will have a chance to approve forestry operations before they begin. He added he's ready to go as far as designating the forest areas within municipal boundaries a recreation zone to prohibit commercial harvesting.
"That at least puts the power back into the people's hands, so they'll know exactly what's going on and be able to provide input into it," he said.
Government open to changes
Organizers of the anti-cutting group held a public meeting Feb. 20 that was attended by provincial government officials, including MHA Colin Holloway.
In question period Tuesday, Bryne said government is open to changes to the forestry plan.
"We have to balance. This is a working forest. We're sustaining industry. We're sustaining jobs, but we also recognize we're sustaining the tourism industry jobs as well," he said. "That balance is very important."
Byrne said there is a meeting scheduled with town representatives in the coming week.
- A previous version of this story misidentified the mayor of Port Blandford. Chad Holloway is the mayor of Port Blandford.Feb 28, 2018 2:20 PM NT
With files from the Central Morning Show