Backroads and logging roads will soon be terms of the past in B.C. under a proposal for a new Natural Resource Road Act.
Feedback on the proposed new legislation is being accepted until Thursday, although it’s not expected the new act will be in force for more than a year.
Industrial users such as logging companies have already held discussions with government over the new proposal, which would consolidate 11 current pieces of legislation affecting ‘resource roads’ into one.
According to the discussion paper on the new legislation, dated November this year, the act would provide common requirements and responsibilities regarding the construction, maintenance and use of resource roads in a way that’s reasonable and fair for all concerned, with consideration for the public interest and the environment.
Such roads access resource tenure holders such as for range land use, mining or forestry; remote communities or properties, or they may be used for recreation.
The idea is to improve industrial competitiveness, support rural economic sustainability and reduce the administrative cost borne by taxpayers.
Streamlining the administrative process, clarifying and standardizing rights, obligations and environmental objectives and integrating decision-making to provide greater certainty for business are among the goals of the new legislation, according to the paper.
However, there are resource road users who are concerned about just how the generalizations in the discussion paper will play out.
For instance, water utilities with concerns about source water protection wonder whether there will be consideration given in the new act to protection of watersheds; and whether their roads accessing infrastructure around diversions and dams high up in the watershed will become more accessible to the public.
Toby Pike, manager of the South East Kelowna Irrigation District, notes that there is no mention of source water assessments in the discussion of planning requirements for new resource roads or for their design, maintenance and use. Recreational users question whether the new act might permit them more access to wilderness areas, with the opportunity to take on the maintenance of some former logging roads now deactivated by the companies who built them as they’re no longer needed.
Gorman Brothers’ operations forester Kerry Rouke says he understands the idea is that a fish and game club might be able to come forward when a logging company is ready to deactivate a backroad and agree to take on spring inspections of culverts and such necessary maintenance tasks in order to keep such roads open for recreational use.
Lodges accessed solely by such resource roads and currently without the right to maintain their access in winter, for instance, would be able to arrange to take on that responsibility.
The discussion paper talks about a single ‘designated maintainer’ of roads, but also about the shared costs for maintenance where multiple parties use a road for industrial or some commercial purposes, as well as capital cost recovery.
However, there is also a limitation to the liability which can be borne by this designated maintainer, which would encourage government to allow more roads to remain open for public use rather than the road being deactivated once the designated maintainer no longer requires the road.
The idea is also to encourage safer behaviour on resource roads.
Although without a designated maintainer a road may be subject to deactivation, permanently mitigating environmental risk associated with the road, if a road is important to a user, they may be able to accept an appropriate level of responsibility to help mitigate environmental damage.
“The amount of responsibility will vary with the planned use, the environmental risk, and the capacity of the user,” reads the paper.
Comment on the proposal, and details of the proposal, are available on the FLNRO website at: http://www.for.gov.bc.ca/mof/nrra/