The campaign to save the Powerhouse Plunge mountain bike trail from logging suffered a major setback this week with the Jan. 12 announcement that Ministry of Forests has approved logging in the area by B.C. Timber Sale, a Crown corporation.
However, according to Squamish Mayor Ian Sutherland, the battle is far from over.
"We understand the approving officer made a decision based on certain criteria, and now its our job to talk to other people in government and get them to look at the issue of water and the issue of outdoor recreation. We think that more than balances out against the relatively small amount that would be made from logging it."
When the logging application was first revealed in May, the Squamish Off Road Cycling Association did some research and determined that the value of the wood in the proposed cut is approximately $2 million.
By way of comparison, organizers of the Test of Metal bike race and festival estimate that their event of which the Powerhouse Plunge is a major component generates up to $5 million in revenues for Squamish each year. In addition, as a signature trail that brings mountain bikers to Squamish, SORCA estimates that value of "The Plunge" could be over $1 million per year.
But while theres a strong tourism and recreation case, Sutherland believes the strongest point against logging is its proximity to an important Squamish water source.
"Our wells are in that area," he said. "And while the risk of contamination may be on the low side, the consequences could be very high. If something happened up there it could basically wipe out about 80 per cent of the towns water supply."
SORCA and the District of Squamish, bolstered by a local "Save The Plunge" (STP) campaign, have an ally in Liberal MLA Joan McIntyre, who is bringing the issue to the attention of other MLAs. In addition, Sutherland and the district have drafted a letter to the Minister of Forests and Range outlining their concerns with the process and the decision by the approving officer.
"At the same time were working towards getting an understanding of the timetable whatever (B.C. Timber Sales) has in mind, to make sure that everything can be looked at in a proper sequence," said Sutherland.
The logging block itself will go onto the B.C. Timber Sales schedule, and will be sold off to the highest bidder.
The original plan to log the area has already been amended as a result of the local concern. The logging company that wins the bid will leave a 30-metre buffer zone on either side of the trail, as well as a 20-metre zone within the block with reduced harvesting. In addition, the number of access points into the block has been reduced to one, and the trail will cross one logging road from top to bottom.
Sutherland says its positive that B.C. Timber Sales has at least recognized the concern and adjusted the plan, but says the Districts goal is to scrap the application entirely and secure long-term protection for the area.