PORT BLANDFORD, N.L. — While the Department of Fisheries and Land Resources have sent a revised proposal to Port Blandford residents, the Town says the revisions largely don’t matter — as rezoning in the community should be able to block any potential clearcutting in their area.
While the crowd at the public meeting on Tuesday, May 8, in the Port Blandford Legion was decidedly smaller than the previous meetings, the residents seemed largely pleased with the route they’ll be taking going forward.
The revised proposal sent by the province included some expanded buffer zones, annual reviews and early reforestation, however, those in attendance seemed less than pleased with this potential route. While the plan also proposed to protect viewscapes in the Southwest River Valley, according to a map at the meeting, many were skeptical about the claims.
“It’s almost laughable,” said committee member Cliff Matthews at the meeting.
He went on to say that the proposal to the committee doesn’t really mean anything, as there will be no clearcutting happening in the area. He said that by rezoning the areas within town boundaries, no cutting can take place, and no access roads can be used to get to cutting areas in the Southwest River Valley outside the town limits.
“Our mayor and council will not issue any permits for any harvesting of any kind in the proposed area … And I can’t see them going in there with helicopters for a few sticks of wood.”
Port Blandford Mayor Chad Holloway explained to the people that due to the rezoning process that has already begun, he thinks it’s unlikely anyone will be able to access any of the areas near Port Blandford for the purposes of clearcutting.
When the rezoning process takes place within town boundaries, not only will no cutting be able to be done within the limits, but Holloway explains that two access roads in the town created by Nalcor will not be able to be used for clearcutting purposes either, likely preventing cutting outside of the municipal boundary as well. The roads were put in place only for one permitted use — access bypass road for transmission lines — and can’t be used as resource roads.
“The majority of what they’re looking at harvesting is actually within the municipal boundary … for them to be able to access even the wood (outside the boundary) they would have to go through the municipal boundary to get that,” explained Mayor Holloway.
The mayor broke down the steps for rezoning, including what they’ve already completed — a resolution by council to start the process, a meeting with the planner, and public advertising for consultation.
He says they planned to adopt the amendment on May 16, followed by a public notice of the amendment. That will be followed by a commissioner hearing and an approval of that report, only required if met with opposition. Then there is the submission to government for review and registration. After that, the council can approve the amendment and it can be gazetted. Once rezoned, the area will only have the permitted uses recreation open space, outdoor assembly and conservation. He says this will allow for further tourism development like hiking trails, picnic areas and cross-country skiing.
Mayor Holloway also says that while this process of rezoning is going through its steps, no clearcutting will be able to happen and in the Urban and Rural Planning Act, the rezoning could be drawn out for a long time.
“Nothing can happen while rezoning process goes on.
“Development regulations the town was given by the authority of the provincial government to every municipality in this province whereby we have municipal plans and development regulations to manage what’s inside of our borders … it doesn’t matter who you are, if you violate our development regulations, there’s avenues there to stop it.”
The mayor added an important note regarding the proposal, saying the entire proposal and negotiation process was between the Citizens Against Clearcutting committee and the province — the town was not involved and can continue with the rezoning separate from any other plans.
“Had we entered into negotiations with government, that would’ve really hurt our rezoning option,” said Holloway.
When asked if the provincial government could block the rezoning process, Mayor Holloway reiterated that there is no precedent for government departments to do something like that when it is not the wishes of the people, and would be merely for the government’s own gain. He’s also talked to other municipalities and hasn’t found any indication the province would do that, especially since they’ve seen no major, coordinated opposition from people within Port Blandford who debated the issue.
“When a rezoning goes in, and we’ve done several in the community now, and government has never come back and tried to stop a rezoning,” said Mayor Holloway.
He adds the only instance he could imagine that would stop a rezoning would be if council was not acting in the interest of its citizens, possibly acting as part of a conflict of interest.
“If the people of a community wants to rezone an area to help enhance the tourism product in their area that supports over 100 jobs in their community and the government basically says ‘No, because we want to bring in a couple of harvesters and flatten it all,’ — then I said it before and I’ll say it again, it’s a very difficult thing to bring to the ballot box.”
As for the members of the Port Blandford Citizen Against Clearcutting, they say they will take a break while the town continues to work to rezone the areas within the boundaries.
However, they say they are not dissolving, and if they’re needed, they’ll take up the mantle.
While there were some disagreements at the meeting on Tuesday that there was miscommunication from the group, the people in attendance were thankful for the tireless work of the committee members.
The committee says they accomplished what they set out to do — prevent clearcutting in their community. They thanked committee members, residents, the mayor and council and Opposition MHA Jim Lester, who presented their petition in the House of Assembly.
“We fought for this for a reason,” said Matthews to the crowd.
“Everybody in this room should walk through this town with their head up,” added committee member Garfield White. “Because other towns got the same issues we’ve got, and they never done what we did.
“And you can’t do things by yourself, this is a community thing … it was unreal the support we had as a committee and we really appreciate it.”