February 21 council briefs

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Highway maintenance concerns

A fiery January 24 letter from Peace River South MLA Blair Lekstrom concerning road maintenance contracts in the region spurred a sympathetic response from council at last Monday’s (January 21) council meeting.

Lekstrom cited a reduced number of graders being used, classifications of local highways as Class B highways, and the use of liquid calcium chloride on roads as causes for concern, in his letter to Transportation Minister Shirley Bond, copied to all South Peace municipalities.

“I have lived in this area all of my life and have driven on our roads for the last 33 years,”Lekstrom wrote. “Industrial activity has grown much faster than what our road investments have been and as a result, we find the conditions of our roads in many instances is going backwards.”

Coun. Kelly McManus noted Caribou Road Services, the company contracted to maintain highways in the South Peace, seems to use underbody plows more than front plows on their equipment. The underbody plows are narrower, he said, leading to thinner widths of cleared highway. He also took issue with calcium chloride.

“Typically in my experience, it’s used as a pre-wetting agent,” he said, adding he has doubts about the effectiveness of liquid calcium chloride being used in the absence of sand and gravel, a concern echoed by Coun. Doug Beale. In his letter, Lekstrom noted that the highways contractor for the North Peace does not use liquid calcium.

Coun. Don McPherson said the class B rating is a problem. Highway 29 and both the east and west sections of Highway 52 are rated class B, based on the criteria of having a volume of less than 5,000 vehicles per day, said a Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure spokesperson contacted by the Tumbler Ridge News.

Where a class A highway would get snow removal after 4 centimetres of snow have accumulated, a class B highway is not cleared until there are 6 centimetres of snow, explained the spokesperson. Other factors such as response times are also dependent on the classification. In winter, highways are classified on an A to F scale; in the summer, the class ranges from 1 to 8.

Beale said it seems like there’s a line drawn at some point between Tumbler Ridge and Dawson Creek on Highway 52, at which point road maintenance becomes noticeably improved. The prospect of changing the highway classification is likely not easy, said Coun. Darwin Wren.
“I’m certain that it’s probably a fairly lengthy bureaucratic process,” he said.

Lekstrom’s full letter can be found in the February 21 council meeting agenda, available at town hall.

 


 

Forest fuel plan

Council learned more about the plan to control forest fire fuel – i.e. dead and dying trees – in the areas surrounding Tumbler Ridge.

“There’s still large tracts of land, particularly to the south in the Murray Valley, where there’s large tracts of beetle infestations,” said Chris Maundrell from Adlard Environmental, the Fort St. John company given the contract to implement the program, funded by the province and by Tumbler Ridge. Adlard gave a brief presentation for council.

“There’s a lot of dead red attack, grey attack, and still even green attack in there,” he said. “The fact that West Fraser has been down there logging fairly hard is good, in that they’ve taken a lot of fuel out of that area. But there’s still a lot of fuel in there, and a lot of fuel just to the south of town. Your greatest risk is coming from the south or from the west.”

Large tracks of deciduous forest between the Murray River and the town could help slow the movement of a forest fire from that direction, Maundrell explained.  This upcoming treatment, which involves tree removal and chipping in nine different areas in and around Tumbler Ridge, will give Adlard a better idea of what risk the community now faces.

The focus will be on reducing ground fuel and ladder fuels, which could allow fires to spread between trees from crown to crown. Last year’s treatments involved tree removal from local parks.

A risk assessment was carried out when Adlard initially applied for the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) funding, and all areas treated are those classified as “high risk,” based on Adlard’s assessment using provincial criteria, he explained.

Responding to a question from the gallery about concerns with isolated trees blowing down, Maundrell noted prevailing winds in town come from the south, so the plan is to remove trees from the north side of stands. Maundrell also explained that chipping doesn’t add to ground fuel, as it works to increase soil moisture retention, which reduces the risk of fire spreading.

Maundrell said all trees removed will be sold as timber to Canfor in Chetwynd. Those sales should cover 80 per cent of logging and delivery costs, including stumpage fees to be paid on all Crown land portions, he added. Without that sale agreement in place, the treatment alone would cost $300,000, he said.


Avalanche avoidance

 

District forest recreation officer Tim Bennett spoke before council to encourage more cooperation on local avalanche knowledge and trail signage.

“We’ve made quite a bit of headway just in the last month with the Chetwynd (snowmobile) group,” said Bennett, who now works under the Ministry of Natural Resource Operations. He told council there are no registered trails in this area, and no avalanche control carried out. If the district or local clubs  register snowmobile trails, it’s possible to invoke the Forest Services Practices Act to put up trailhead signage warning of dangerous avalanche conditions, he said.

The district and local clubs can also access funding that is not available to the NRO ministry. Bennett can be reached for more details at 250-784-0178.


 

Convention centre use

Council heard the Tumbler Ridge Museum Foundation’s (TRMF) request to use the newest hotel’s convention centre for their second annual paleontology symposium in May.

Under the partnering agreement with the district, the convention centre is to allow five days free for use to community groups each year, and some days at a discounted rate. As those days can be carried over for one year, there are 10 free days currently available. The district will work on a policy to make sure those free days are allocated fairly.

At the meeting, district staff couldn’t recollect which community groups have used the convention centre so far. Peace River Coal and Western Coal have paid to use the centre for company functions.


 

Minerals North
Community development officer Kelly Bryan suggested a few members of council consider attending the Minerals North 2011 Conference in Stewart, B.C.

Bryan noted the conference also has a trade show, and with two or three councillors, someone could always help to staff a booth at the trade show.