In a split vote, the Arrow Lakes School District 10 board of trustees approved a plan to allow a logging company to build an access road across its property at Burton Elementary School.
The trustees voted 3-2 at a special meeting on July 22 to allow Stella-Jones to move ahead with plans to build a short logging road across the corner of the district’s 63-acre property in order to access beetle-killed wood for logging.
“If this access road helps get the job done, then it should go ahead,” said Lora Lee Brekke before casting her vote in favour of the proposal. “The wildfire situation we’re currently in shows us the need for getting rid of the dead wood on the mountain and keep any fuel away from fires.”
She added it was a matter of public responsibility.
“As one resident pointed out, the public will hold us responsible if a devastating fire should happen and we did not give access,” she said. “Our decision needs to be seen as not supporting logging, but in keeping Burton School and the community safe.”
But not all trustees agreed. Board chair Christine Dixon said she was worried about the potential problems created by the logging operation.
“I don’t believe it’s in the best interest of District 10 students,” she said. “The clearcut operation, on a steep slope above the school – I’m concerned about future disasters happening from an extreme weather event that could bring the side down into the school.
“I know it’s fear-based, but I believe that fire is also fear-based. Maybe more obvious, though. It’s a really tough decision but I am going to oppose it.”
Several trustees said they struggled with their decision, including Rhonda Farrell.
“I’ve not been sure of which side to support, because I hear both sides. I appreciate the ‘no’ argument, and the ‘yes’ argument, and for me it comes down to which is the lesser of two evils,” she said.
In the end Farrell, along with Brekke and Trustee Steve Gascon, voted for the proposal. Dixon and Trustee Danyea Simon voted against.
A follow-up motion by Gascon called for any funds raised by the project to be earmarked for the use of Burton Elementary School. That is estimated to be about $23,000 from the 10-year road lease and the sale of wood cut to create the logging road. That motion was passed, with only Trustee Simon abstaining.
The board made the decision several weeks after holding a public meeting in Burton to discuss the plan, and accepting written submissions from the public on the matter.
Now that the approval has been granted in principal, SD 10 officials will meet with Stell-Jones to settle the details of the contract.
Stella-Jones has committed to meeting with residents of Burton in August to consult about their plans, which will see several blocks of wood-damaged pine cleared out from above the community.
John Boivin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice