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Northern mayors warn Burns Lake timber solution may harm their communities

Mayors of five northern communities have written to Premier Christy Clark expressing concern that finding enough timber for a new mill in Burns Lake may harm the sustainability of the places they represent.

"We appreciate the challenges the Government of BC and the community of Burns Lake are facing at this time and want to do anything we can to support initiatives that will address these challenges," said the April 16 letter from mayors Gerry Thiessen of Vanderhoof, Rob MacDougall of Fort St. James, Dwayne Lindstrom of Fraser Lake, Bill Holmberg of Houston and Taylor Bachrach of Smithers.

"However we want to ensure that these remedies do not have a negative impact on the survival of our own communities," it said. "We ask that the Government move cautiously towards these solutions. The decisions being made will impact the entire forest industry for many years."

The letter said Bob Clark had described the plans on behalf of the B.C. government on March 30 and Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad had since provided some details in a community meeting in Vanderhoof.

An April 7, 2012 cabinet submission outlines various options which Premier Clark has said are under discussion as ways to find enough timber for Hampton Affiliates Ltd. to be able to justify rebuilding the Babine Forest Products sawmill in Burns Lake, which burned down after a January explosion.

The proposals included logging areas set aside to protect oldgrowth, wildlife habitat and visual corridors. The document also considered logging at an unsustainable rate and taking decisions away from the chief forester and putting them in the hands of the cabinet.

The northern mayors said they want a better understanding of the projected volume increases. "Then through broad base stakeholder consultation explore the impacts of these changes on our own communities," the letter said. "We want to work towards well thought out solutions that will result in the long term sustainability of our communities."

The mayors' letter adds to concerns raised by the Association of B.C. Forest Professionals and the Canadian Institute of Forestry, said independent MLA Bob Simpson who represents Cariboo North.

"What the letter indicates is what a number of us have been saying, that the government, in particular a number of members of cabinet, have been over-reaching in their attempts to get a mill built in Burns Lake," said Simpson.

The government needs to have a discussion in those communities that it has been so far avoiding, he said. "What they're asking for is absolutely correct."

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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