The decision by the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) not to support a sawmill operation in the Squamish Valley has the owner worried he could go out of business.
Rene Trudeau, the longtime operator of a one-man sawmill operation in an agricultural region adjacent to the District of Squamish, said the SLRD's decision to recommend against supporting his non-farm use application to the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) could effectively scuttle his business.
"I'm just a little guy trying not to have to go to Squamish and work," he said.
Trudeau has operated his sawmill in the Squamish Valley since 1978. He started it as a hobby; building himself a barn and a woodworking shop, cutting wood to make items such as house sidings and fence posts.
"If you wanted siding for your house, you might come and see me," he said. "If you want a fence for your property and you have the fence in your backyard... I'd be the guy you come and see. I'm half the price of (big box stores) and it's a better quality lumber."
Trudeau is allowed to operate his sawmill under regional district bylaws so long as at least 50 per cent of the volume of timber harvested is from the farm or parcel where the mill is located.
The problem is that he's milled all the timber on the property where the mill is located and he has acquired new lots around the Squamish Valley that will allow him to harvest more wood.
To do that, he had to submit an application for non-farm use to the regional district that would thereafter be forwarded to the ALC, which regulates land use in areas where agriculture is a priority use.
Trudeau submitted his application on October 12, 2009... and it wasn't until earlier this month that he discovered the regional district was putting it on a monthly board agenda with a recommendation that the ALC not support it.
"I never heard another word from them," he said of submitting his application two years ago. "Nobody phoned to ask how big the operation is, how small the operation, they're basically picking up a rubber stamp and saying no."
The reason that the regional district is not supporting the application, said a staff report for the board's August 22 meeting, is that staff feel the type of non-farm use Trudeau intends is not appropriate for the properties where he hopes to harvest timber. Beyond that, neighbours have complained about smoke associated with the activity.
Asked why it took almost two years to process the application, Steven Olmstead, the SLRD's director of planning, said that when it was first submitted he was on vacation and he didn't return to the office for three weeks. It wasn't until an ALC employee recently inquired about the status of the application that the regional district became aware of it.
A motion of non-support passed at the board's August 22 meeting, with Squamish Directors Greg Gardner and Paul Lalli in opposition, but with the support of Area D Director John Turner. He did not respond to a request for comment.
Pemberton Director and Mayor Jordan Sturdy also voted not to support the application and said the board discussed the possibility of the sawmill going out of business, but he said that the same argument could be made for "every single non-farm application on farmland."
"In past years the board shut down a cabinet-making shop in the Pemberton Meadows on farmland," he said. "Anybody can argue the same thing. I should be able to have any kind of shop, because otherwise I'll go out of business."