Meager landslide obstructing industry

Photo courtesy of B.C. Ministry of Environment

Landslide has cost 25 jobs, cut off B.C.’s only pumice supply

August 19, 2010

By Jesse Ferreras, Pique Newsmagazine

The closure of the Lillooet River Forest Service Road by the Aug. 6 Mount Meager landslide has restricted access to four natural resource projects.

There are two pumice mines, a logging operation and a run-of-river project that are now inaccessible. Work cannot continue on any of those projects until the road is opened again.

A spokeswoman with the Ministry of Forests and Range, which administers forest service roads, told Pique in an e-mail that the road is closed at nine kilometres and is not passable at 34 kilometres. There is also a lot of mud and debris in the road’s right-of-way and the road itself between 500 metres and the one-kilometre mark.

Forestry crews, she said, are on site trying to develop a plan and cost estimate for fixing and reopening the road. She said it was premature to speculate on when that might happen.

The news was particularly damaging for Pebble Creek Timber Ltd., a company owned by the same people that run Squamish Mills. Just last month, Pebble Creek Timber acquired a forest tenure on Mount Meager from CRB Logging Inc. Now they’ve seen much of their timber fall into Capricorn and Meager Creeks.

That’s put 25 Pemberton residents out of work, ending jobs that would have paid anywhere between $50,000 and $80,000. The company now finds itself without a tenure it paid over $1 million to acquire.

“We just finished putting a bridge over Capricorn Creek and we were going to start logging there the 1st of September,” John Lowe, Pebble Creek Timber’s manager of manufacturing, production and operations said in an interview. “Not only does it not exist, the bridge over the Lillooet River doesn’t exist, so there’s no access to the Meager Creek timber, period. So Pebble Creek has purchased nothing.”

The company worked on purchasing the tenure from CRB for two years. Lowe couldn’t say how big the tenure was, but he said the company had an annual allowable cut of approximately 19,000 cubic metres.

Both Pebble Creek Timber and CRB Logging were well aware of Mount Meager’s instability but Lowe hoped it would take another few years before the big landslide happened.

“It usually comes down every eight to 10 years,” he said. “It came down about four or five years ago, so we thought we’d be fine for a few years, but because of unusual weather conditions this year, you know, between the heat and the light rain and so on, it all culminated to cause a problem.”

The slide has also wiped out five pieces of equipment belonging to Pebble Creek Timber, including a 992 Road Builder, a 330 Caterpillar Road Builder and a Terrex 8250 Dozer. Taken together, the equipment added up to about $1 million.

Also impacted in the slide were two pumice mines, the only ones operating in British Columbia. One of them, Garibaldi Pumice Ltd., which owns a mine located on the north side of the Lillooet River, was supplying the mineral to the Port Mann/Highway 1 Improvement Project in Surrey.

Contractors are building a new 10-lane bridge that will be tolled on each side. Garibaldi Pumice is contributing material to create compression soils to protect water lines leading up to the bridge.

Bob Matheson, the owner of Garibaldi Pumice Ltd., said in an interview that the Port Mann project has enough pumice at present because the company has a stockpile of material it can provide.

He added, however, that the closure of the road makes it impossible for his workers to access the mine and truck the pumice to clients. That could put the company out millions of dollars.

Meanwhile Great Pacific Pumice mines its materials directly out of a 25 million cubic metre deposit on Mount Meager, located about 15 kilometres past the washout on the Lillooet Forest Service Road.

Company spokesman Sandy Biln said Great Pacific Pumice has stopped work because, like Garibaldi Pumice, it can’t transport anything from its mine to its customers. He said the mine is perfectly intact but the road is washed out and its trucks can’t cross it.

“We only work for three or four months a year,” he said. “The window’s really small. This year we didn’t get in until July 1 and usually mid-October we’re out of there because of snow conditions. We couldn’t get in there (this year) because of snow conditions… we usually get in there in June.”

Meanwhile Creek Power Inc., a joint venture between Innergex and Ledcor, is planning three hydro facilities that are collectively known as the Upper Lillooet Hydro Project. One is planned for the Upper Lillooet River; another for Boulder (Pebble) Creek; and yet another for North Creek.

Together, once operational, they’ll have a generating capacity of 113 MW.

Company spokeswoman Natalie Closs said in an interview that Creek Power Inc. doesn’t have any access to their three project sites.

They have, however, talked to the Ministry of Forests and determined that the area is safe to airlift three or four workers in to do archaeological and geotechnical assessments.

The company is also doing some fish and wildlife studies as it prepares documents to submit to the Environmental Assessment Office so that it can obtain an Environmental Assessment Certificate, which would allow them to build their projects.

“It’s actually probably occurred at the most opportune time for us because we didn’t have the people in the field,” she said. “Environmental consultants will probably be heading back up there at the end of August and we have geotech work at the end of September, so we would be looking at needing access in late August.”

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About jesseferreras

Sea to Sky-based journalist. Snowboarder, cyclist, cinephile, bon vivant.
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