PORT BLANDFORD, NL — While Fisheries and Land Resources Minister Gerry Byrne emphasized compromise after a Tuesday meeting in St. John’s with concerned citizens of Port Blandford, the anti-clearcutting group had a decidedly different takeaway from the meeting, which they outlined at a community meeting on Thursday night.
Committee member Linda Davis told the dozens of local residents who attended the town meeting that the audience with the minister didn’t go as the committee had hoped.
Member Garfield White described Byrne’s behaviour as “arrogant.”
While the committee and town balked at Byrne’s request for compromise, they are formulating a plan to bring back to the provincial government.
The first step would expand upon the Town of Port Blandford’s previously announced efforts to rezone the area within town boundaries that would cover a portion of the forest planned for clear cut.
Mayor Chad Holloway showed maps of the zone and said, after proper public consultation, it can be rezoned from permitted to discretionary use — either conservational or recreational.
“Council has the authority on behalf of the people of Port Blandford to set any conditions on any types of forest harvesting inside of the municipal boundary,” he explained.
Holloway said council would also rezone only the area slated for commercial harvesting, not the area designated for domestic cutting.
He also said once the area is rezoned, a permit would be required even to put a new road into any of these areas within town boundaries, which would also affect cutting greatly.
“Before they can even put a road to it, the people of Port Blandford will have a say,” said the mayor. “Even though we can’t control what happens outside our boundary, we can stop roads getting into the back.”
Committee member Adam Greening went into greater detail on a large map, showing exactly what government plans to cut and where — including planned areas that fall outside town boundaries that are still vulnerable to clearcutting in the future.
As for the commercial cutting areas outside of town boundaries, Garfield White said the committee has some ideas for those blocks.
In addition to increasing buffer zone sizes, widening the domestic cutting area and other requests, he said they could “give a little” by having smaller harvesting operators cut the area with chainsaws instead of large commercial harvesters using machinery that would further damage the land.
“What we want to do is give small sections outside of our community, outside of our boundaries,” said White. That would also include extensive replanting, he said.
Forestry’s initial plan includes two commercial harvesters cutting 8,000 cubic metres in the first year. Smaller operations wouldn’t take as much as that at once, because they simply can’t cut at that rate.
However, this proposal seems to be just an option for the group at this point.
“(At least) you can trust that when (smaller cutters) go in there they won’t tear it to Jesus,” said White. “That’s just my opinion … They won’t go in and slaughter it all in one shot.
“We’ll have the say.”
New committee member Clarence White said he’s been in contact with a couple of interest groups, including the National Resource Defence Council (NRDC), which may help the group in its cause to prevent the clearcutting.
The committee said with community support it can put together a plan, which would include the rezoning strategy, to present to provincial forestry. The group may also incorporate ideas like using small harvesters outside of town boundaries, as Garfield White detailed.
While the committee and many people in attendance concluded they had near-unanimous support from the people of Port Blandford, there were some heated discussions during the meeting, though much of the argument was eventually chaulked up to misunderstanding.
Rich Tucker and his son Dennis represented some small-scale harvesting operations, which Garfield White used as an example of what, in the group’s opinion, are more desirable harvesting methods. They don’t use large machinery to cut like other harvesters.
However, the Tuckers attested they were recently told by forestry officials to stop cutting in their area east of Port Blandford because of the disputes in the community.
While there was an argument over what they should or shouldn’t be allowed to cut, the committee and the harvesters agreed that, in this particular area, they aren’t trying to block anyone from cutting.
Another tense moment occurred when Terra Nova MHA and Port Blandford resident Colin Holloway voiced his displeasure with statements made by Mayor Chad Holloway at the beginning of the meeting.
When asked if the Department of Municipal Affairs could possibly block the town from rezoning within its boundaries, the mayor said it could, but it would be “bad politics” and “it would be a hard thing to bring to the ballot box.”
MHA Holloway, who is also a parliamentary secretary for the Department of Municipal Affairs, said he took exception to that because he would be the one who would be targeted “at the ballot box.”
“I’ve listened to enough in the last week, with everybody saying this is all my fault! I’ve seen all the crap that’s on Facebook,” a visibly agitated Holloway said to the crowd.
“The only one you’re dealing with at the ballot box is me! That’s what you’re saying,” he shouted.
However, Mayor Holloway reiterated any comment he made was not directed personally at the MHA, but indicated a general understanding that it would not be good for their community and residents would respond accordingly.
“It’s politics! Do a politician want to take on a small town that’s really trying to save its tourism industry?” the mayor replied to the MHA. “Look at what we’re trying to do. Look at all the people that’s here! If we’ve got a good argument, saying ‘We want to rezone this, we want to protect this’ as the municipality . . . we’re elected officials too, responsible within our jurisdiction. We do have power and we’re willing to wield it.
“If the minister of Municipal Affairs wants to deny us a rezoning for really no good reason, then yes, it’s political and yes, take that to the ballot box!”
While the community and the town say there is no definite timeline for their proposal to government, they are taking their consensus from the meeting and beginning work on it right away.