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Industry asked to share cost of fixing forest service road

Province in discussions with companies about removing Mount Meager slide debris



The Lillooet Forest Service Road needs fixing and the province may dig into industry's pockets to make it happen.

The road, which was buried at various points by the Aug. 6 Mount Meager landslide, serves as the primary access for various industries that operate in the area.

Forty million cubic metres of debris are estimated to have descended into Capricorn Creek and Meager Creek earlier this month, making it the second biggest recorded in Canadian history. Some of that material must be removed to get the Lillooet FSR open. It is closed nine kilometres in and is not passable at 34 kilometres, preventing access to three sites planned for run-of-river projects, a geothermal exploration site and two pumice mines, the only ones operating in British Columbia.

Bob Matheson, a co-owner of Garibaldi Pumice Inc., a pumice operation that's supplying material to the Port Mann Bridge project in Surrey, told Pique in an interview that B.C.'s Ministry of Forests and Range is seeking between $50,000 and $100,000 from industrial operators to help fix the road.

Matheson's company advertises itself as Canada's largest producer of dacite pumice, a lightweight, porous volcanic rock that's used in fill material, horticulture and concrete aggregate. Past projects have included providing fill for the Canada Line extension between Richmond and Vancouver, as well as the Serpentine River bridge in Surrey and the Stanley Park S-Curve.

With the road closed, the company could be out "millions of dollars," according to Matheson. Garibaldi Pumice and the other companies operating in the area are being asked to share the cost of fixing the road.

"They have to settle the funding, who's going to pay for it," Matheson said. "They want private industry to pay for it, or at least share in the cost."

Sandy Biln, spokesman for Great Pacific Pumice, also confirmed in an interview on Aug. 17 that the Ministry of Forests and Range is seeking industry's help to fix the road.

"They're just saying they don't have any money," Biln said. "They can't figure out where they're going to get the money from to fix the road because they're putting things together, seeing if we have any machinery to donate and help out, or whatever.

"They're going to fly more people out there to have a look this Friday (Aug. 20) and that's all they're doing. They're not really... they just don't know what to do right now."

But as Matheson tells it, that's not the only issue obstructing the re-opening of the forest service road. He said officials with Fisheries and Oceans Canada have been monitoring the area to see what kind of impact the slide has had on fish habitats.

But Corino Salomi, habitat chief for the Lower Fraser area with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, denied that the Ministry of Forests needs any approval from them to open the road again.

He said Fisheries and Oceans has been doing joint fly-overs with the Ministry of Forests to examine the slide area and see what remedial measures are required in the short term.

Salomi said there may have been an initial expectation from the Ministry of Forests that they had to wait on word from Fisheries to open the forest service road but after examining the area, both ministries determined that Forests wouldn't need any go-ahead for remedial measures.

"We're really providing an assistance and advisory role and not a regulatory role at this time," Salomi said. "We advised the Ministry of Forests that we supported them clearing the road as early as they needed."

A spokeswoman with the Ministry of Forests confirmed via e-mail that officials are in discussions with industry to determine whether cost-sharing to fix the road is a possibility, but she didn't provide any cost estimates.

As for Fisheries and Oceans Canada, she said approval from them is needed to ensure repair work and road rebuilding does not have negative impacts on fish and fish habitat.