Packed agenda at community forest meeting

Lawsuit with former manager now settled

Jeff McWilliams of B.A. Blackwell and Associates
Jeff McWilliams of B.A. Blackwell and Associates

By LAURA KEIL

Under the watch of its forestry consultants, the McBride Community Forest Corporation (MCFC) has tidied up a number of problems, but there is still much work to be done, or so was the takeaway from a meeting last Wednesday to update the community.

“My analogy here is we’re like a ship,” said one consultant Jeff McWilliams, of B.A. Blackwell & Associates, speaking on the topic of over-harvesting. “We’re way, way over, heading towards the ice berg, and we are slowly starting to turn the ship. We can’t turn it immediately, end over end; it’s too big … We are trying to get things back in balance within a reasonable amount of time.”

The consultants were brought in last summer after the MCFC let go of its former manager Marc Von der Gonna. The corporation still has no general manager, and is being managed by B.A. Blackwell & Associates.

The Corporation recently settled a lawsuit with von der Gonna for $95,000, which is the equivalent of one year’s salary.

In a statement from Mayor Loranne Martin, who sits on the MCFC board but who was not at the meeting, Martin says the corporation will not owe anything more to von der Gonna.

“It’s now over,” she said in the statement.

The MCFC is still dealing with one lawsuit with TRC Cedar.

McWilliams notes that, while the financial statements are not yet finalized, it looks like the MCFC will have a net loss of roughly $200,000 for 2015, largely due to a lower cut, the creation of a standing timber inventory, restructuring costs, and fines (about $13,000) for past infractions. The overcut in 2014 was 89,827m3.

“We’re dealing with a significant set of issues,” McWilliams says. “It takes time and it takes commitment.”

The Carrier Lumber license deal is not dead, but looks like it will be delayed again as the MCFC does a due diligence assessment over the next two months.

Several people at the meeting questioned why this assessment wasn’t done earlier. McWilliams says they wanted to confirm the deal was still on the table before spending resources on it.

“Early on there was a real concern there was a time crunch,” he says. “We wanted to get to Carrier and say, ‘We hear you, we’ve got these issues we’re dealing with, and we’d like to do this due diligence process but we don’t want to if you’re just going to walk away and not negotiate – why would we spend the money assessing the deal?’”

McWilliams says the Carrier advisory committee will review the due diligence report. The committee, comprised largely of local loggers and foresters, was struck this winter to evaluate the proposed Carrier Lumber forest license purchase. The purchase would extend the harvesting areas and the amount of wood local loggers can pull from the forest. The committee is comprised of: Doug Monroe, Brian Taphorn, Don Smith, Bryan Monroe, Mike Monroe, Randy McFarland, Joseph Rich, Gene Runtz, Jeff McWilliams (chair), Wes Bieber, and the Chair of MCFC, as observer.

Susan Mulkey, a forestry consultant who also sits on the BC Community Forest Assoc., laid out the MCFC board’s recommendations based on the MCFC’s community survey this winter. Recommendations included changing the definition of the area served by the community forest (Holiday Creek to Ptarmigan Creek), creating a new purpose statement, and changing the structure of the board.

Mulkey says they are recommending that the Village of McBride (the sole shareholder) discuss the merits of changing the sole ownership of the MCFC to shared ownership. She gave three options for an alternative legal structure:

1) Move to a Limited Partnership model where the Village of McBride and the areas of the regional district included in the definition of the community served by the MCFC will be equal shareholders.

2) Essentially the same as Option 1, but the Village of McBride would retain control of the MCFC with more shares than the RDFFG Area H, for example Village 50%, RDFG 49%, General Partner 1%.

3) Change the legal structure to a non-profit society with directors elected by the community in the Holiday Creek (aka Baker) to Ptarmigan Creek and a seat reserved for the Village of McBride and the RDFFG Area H to appoint a non-elected person.

Mulkey says the MCFC board hopes to make a recommendation on the new structure by October.

McWilliams says they have created new logging contracts that will hold loggers more accountable for mistakes. He says in the past, the MCFC would be on the hook without recourse, should a logger cause damage.

They have also added directors’ liability insurance for the MCFC board and firefighting insurance.

The meeting concluded with a discussion of Block 28, where large amounts of waste wood remain. There was some debate about whether any of that wood was salvageable.

Local mill owner Raj Basran spoke at the end of the meeting saying he’d like to see more promotion of the positive things the MCFC brings to the community.

“Overall, we should appreciate what we really have,” he says, noting that his mill alone injects $80,000 a month into the local economy. “Today that wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for the community forest.”

He says for the first time in the three years it’s been open, his mill is bringing wood into the valley to mill.

“I see huge potential for other young folks or investors or entrepreneurs to open up other doors and I think there are resources here to do that.”

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