Attempt to get Cherryville mudslide documents released stalls

In September 2014 Cherryville residents set up a blockade to try and prevent work from going ahead on a logging road. Megan Turcato / Global News

CHERRYVILLE – Attempts to get the province to release documents that may shed more light a 2012 mudslide in the Cherryville area have stalled.
In April of 2012 a torrent of mud and debris came down only just missing a home.

Read More: Major mudslide near Cherryville

Logging had taken place in an area above the slide and now with another Cherryville area logging project in the works, some feel information about the 2012 slide needs to be released urgently.

“This goes to the safety the people can feel,” says Andrew Gage, a lawyer with West Coast Environmental Law, who is working to get the information made public. “A community having been subject to that type of a slide understandably want to know what happened [and] is this a problem we are going to experience more of?”
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The new logging project is planned by B.C. Timber Sales (BCTS). Residents have raised concerns that it could lead to landslides. BCTS has said that professional assessments have shown there is a very low risk.

Read More: Disappointment in Cherryville as logging road goes ahead

Last December, Gage filed a freedom of information request on behalf of a Cherryville resident hoping to get the province to release reports related to the slide as well as other records and correspondence. However, so far nothing has been disclosed. The provincial ministry responsible says that’s because the applicants have yet to pay a $390.00 deposit for the records and the two reports requested are part of an ongoing investigation. The money is half of a $780.00 estimated fee to cover the “costs of searching, retrieving and producing the records, shipping and handling, and photocopying.”

Gage has now asked the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) to review the fees and whether some or all of the documents requested should be released under a section of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPPA) that requires “information clearly in the public interest” or “about a risk of significant harm” to be provided “without delay.”

“We are suggesting that the government really has an obligation in the public interest, whether or not there is an investigation going on, to make sure that people are reassured and have the most up-to-date and complete information about what risks they face by living down slope from logging,” says Gage. “In this case the new logging really makes that desire to have more information more pressing.”

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However, the ministry responsible argues that part of the FOIPPA doesn’t apply here and there isn’t any urgency to make the information public.

“[It] would be without merit to suggest that these site specific records are needed to prevent a future slide from occurring. The records would provide no meaningful information as to the ongoing BCTS developments located elsewhere in the area,” reads a statement from the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations in an email to Gage.

“Additionally, receiving this information would assist little in preventing a slide in the area BCTS is currently operating in because one would be unable to determine whether or not circumstances/conditions in the area are the same due to current snow levels, differing topography, business models, inspections, operations, etc.”

Those hoping to get the documentation released are now waiting for the OIPC’s decision before deciding whether to pay the fees. Meanwhile, the investigation into the slide is expected to wrap up in the next few months opening the door for the reports to be released.

The ministry says when they learn of a risk to public health or safety they do “proactively release information.” Adding that the logging company involved and the ministry inspected the area after the 2012 slide and “determined that buildings in the area were safe and that there was a low risk of further slides.”

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The ministry also says the BCTS project is in a different area from the 2012 slide. However, according to Gage, the documentation requested may also shed more light on how alike or different the locations are. He says they’ve requested correspondence from within the ministry that discusses the similarities and differences between the locations.

Tolko, the logging company whose cut block was above the 2012 slide, said they couldn’t comment as an investigation is ongoing.

Road construction for the BCTS project has already begun.

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