by LAURA KEIL
It’s a popular back road nobody wants on their hands.
Dore West road is a “permit road” not a forest service road and after a slide last summer, the government and permit-holder are treating it like a red hot legal liability.
Dore West provides access to several important hiking trails near McBride, but was closed after mudslides covered parts of the road. It provides the only vehicle access to the Ozalenka trailhead which leads to the Ozalenka cabin and the Kristi Glacier trailhead.
After consultation with the government, permit-holder Carrier Lumber Ltd. erected cement barriers blocking ordinary vehicle traffic.
Since then, the local hiking club and tourism association is pleading with the government to re-open the road.
McBride’s Ozalenka Alpine Club member Glen Stanley says Dore West has been used for decades to access the Ozalenka cabin. The backcountry cabin is used by some 350 people per year. It’s booked up nearly every weekend. Most of their booked guests don’t own a quad or snowmobile, which would allow them to continue to use the Dore West.
While the club only charges $10 per night, the tourism draw is worth more than that to the town in terms of tourism draw, overnight stays and restaurant meals, Stanley says. The cabin is featured on a dozen tourism websites unrelated to the club as being a worthwhile backcountry experience.
“Local people take their local friends and visitors up the Dore to show them the glaciers and waterfalls.” Stanley says. “It is an attraction; it should be worth something. It gives visitors another day of activity in the valley.”
Carrier assumed the road permit when they bought the forestry license from McBride Forest Industries five years ago. Carrier Lumber spokesperson Terry Kuzma says they haven’t yet used the road for industrial purposes, and don’t have any immediate plans to do so.
As the road permit holder, Carrier is essentially responsible to make sure the road is in usable condition from an industrial perspective, Kuzma says.
Kuzma says when they realized there were safety issues on the road, the company contacted the provincial forest service and discussed whether it would be possible for the government to take over the road to maintain it for recreational users – very similar to what happened in the McKale Creek area. Kuzma says Carrier held a permit for the McKale and planned to close it, but because of the high number of recreational users, the government said they would take over responsibility
But the government told Carrier in this case they weren’t going to take over the permit.
Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations spokesperson Brennan Clarke wasn’t able to speak to the McKale Creek area permit by press time, but he said there is no policy in place for the government to take over “permit roads,” which are considered more temporary than forest service roads. FSRs are built for the “longer term,” and Clarke says the government will sometimes take on the road license if there are residents, or established tourism operations along it, he says.
“We will do that in some cases with an FSR. We will not do that for a road permit road,” Clarke says.
But McBride resident Glenn Stanley says they have been using the road for decades, since it was put in place some 30 years ago for logging purposes. He says ironically the road has never been safer because of the additional markings and signs. One of the slumps on the road has been there for years and he says you can still easily reach the trailhead without a 4×4.
“It’s better than it’s been in years,” Stanley says. “Now they have logs and signs and ribbons but you can’t get through it. I don’t understand it. Before, it was more dangerous.”
Another group could conceivably take over the permit, but they would face around $200,000 of initial repairs on the road to bring it to standard, according to the Ministry, as well as ongoing maintenance and liability insurance costs.
An organization would also need to prove it had the assets to pay for these costs. Clarke says it’s unlikely the province would willing to approve a transfer of responsibility to a group with no assets as this could be seen as “an abdication of the Crown’s responsibility to act as a reasonable steward of the land base.”
Backcountry enthusiasts hoped new legislation that came into effect in BC last June would help mend the countless closures of backroads in BC. But the new rules don’t make a difference in this case, Clarke says.
The new legislation – the occupier’s liability act amendment – would not necessarily absolve the permit holder or the government from liability, says Clarke. Because Carrier has knowledge of continued use by others and of the safety hazard, Carrier, or another designated maintainer, is obligated to mitigate any known safety hazards. The Crown also has an obligation to act when it becomes aware of road hazards such as this.
Kuzma says last year Carrier Lumber and the forest service were named in a lawsuit after somebody got into a motorcycle accident on a resource road that was left open with a “proceed at your own risk” sign. The issue remains unresolved and the legal precedent unknown, he adds.
The mudslides on the Dore River Rd were thus a red flag for Carrier, and so the company temporarily deactivated the road to control traffic.
“We were certainly concerned from a safety point of view for people not familiar with road, or that the road may continue to slide into the river,” Kuzma says.
Unknown persons dragged away the barriers so trucks could still pass. Carrier Lumber then went and dug a big trench in the road to impede traffic.
Stanley says the cabin has been the highlight of many overseas trips for Europeans. The road closure also cuts off the trailhead to Kristi Glacier trail.
“It’s a beautiful pass between the Dore drainage and Caribou drainage – people really like it. There’s nice tenting up there and a nice trail.”
He says all they are really cutting off are the people who want to go up in a full size vehicle to access the alpine on foot.
“They’re not cutting off hunters or snowmobilers or quadders… it’s just the people who are the biggest users.”
When someone phoned Stanley about renting the cabin, he told them the road is passable, but if they go there they go at their own risk.
“But it’s been that way all along.”
When asked if the McBride Community Forest would consider taking over the road permit from Carrier Lumber, the manager responded that “MCFC has no comment at this time.”
Kuzma says they are hopeful that by spring they will find a long-term solution for the road, but the liability will likely remain a contentious issue, as it is across the province.
“When you take a look at the road permit responsibility, it’s pretty hard to change the conditions of the liability,” he says. “The ideal solution from a corporate point of view would be for government to recognize the higher resource value for these other users and take over the road permit from us.”
Stanley says while their Eagle Valley cabin has gotten more use, they are not happy that hundreds of hours of trail work, cabin upkeep and marketing for the Ozalenka cabin are now for naught: it doesn’t give them much confidence in developing backcountry tourism destinations if the government can take away what took years and years to build.