Future of resource roads unclear

Unclear future for resource roads in British Columbia.

The resource roads that keep the people of Golden connected to the vast backcountry in the area may be in jeopardy.

A Natural Resource Road Act project discussion paper, which the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations in Victoria hopes will be turned into a bill to be introduced to the Legislature by the fall of 2012, is suggesting that many of the resource roads in the province be turned over for private maintenance, or closed.

“How to maintain the Province’s resource roads is a complicated issue, and in 2008 the BC Liberals introduced legislation to change the management of these roads. That legislation was poorly designed, and because of the overwhelming opposition to the legislation, it was withdrawn,” said Columbia River – Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald.

“A second attempt to resolve this issue is expected shortly, but we are hearing that once again the legislation is being rushed. Attempts to consult with some road users has provided more questions than answers.”

The discussion paper suggests that  private businesses who use a given resource road take over the responsibility of maintenance. If no such business steps forward, the road may be closed.

“Where there is no designated maintainer, government may determine that the risk to users or the environment is too great to allow the road to continue to remain open,” states the discussion paper.

For two months, from mid-October to mid-December 2011, the discussion paper was posted online, and the ministry was asking for as much feedback as possible. It generated more than 4,000 individual responses, which were compiled in a summary document. “Over the spring and summer of 2012, a series of 14 working groups with members from across the province will use the feedback to shape a workable and fair piece of draft legislation that will be submitted for government’s consideration in the fall,” reads the summary document.

Macdonald is concerned that the BC Liberals are trying to rush out a piece of legislation that is not yet sufficiently worked out.

“Certain groups feel they have been consulted, but many will be surprised to learn some of the things that are being considered,” said Macdonald.

“We don’t know for sure what will be in the legislation, but what I am hearing from people who have participated in consultations is worrisome. If they don’t get this right it could make life very difficult for people in Golden.”

Golden is known for its backcountry adventure lifestyle, and if access to these backcountry roads is restricted it could affect adventure tourism businesses, prospectors, hunters, back country operators, hikers, ATVers, woodlot operators, and any local or visiting outdoor enthusiasts.

“For people in rural areas, the implications are really profound. It will have an impact on access for recreational users, which in Golden is an important part of our quality of life, to be able to get up to places like Gorman Lake,” said Macdonald.

“There are reasons why you would shut down certain roads. But there’s also reasons why, for the public interest, you’d maintain them.”

If there are multiple businesses operating on the same resource road, the responsibility would fall to the business that uses it the most says Macdonald. And their level of control is not yet clear, which raises several concerns.

“If they’re going to pay for it, does that give them the right to limit access? What about liability? If there is a user that uses it slightly more that a host of other businesses why does the obligation fall on them? And is this the most effective way of actually doing this?” said Macdonald.

“This is an important piece of legislation, and it is important for Golden that the government take their time and do it right.”