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Regional district asks for mediator in pole peeler dispute

The Strathcona Regional District wants the B.C. government to bring in a mediator to help settle the pole peeler plant dispute.

Directors voted at a board meeting last Thursday to write a letter to the Minister of Community, Sport, and Culture, requesting a mediator to address the documented problems of the pole peeler on Duncan Bay Road and its impact on residents.

That motion passed, with just councillors Ryan Mennie, Claire Moglove, and Mary Storry opposed.

“The minister may or may not do this but this is the total extent of what the Strathcona Regional District can do,” said Gerald Whalley, director for Area A, which encompasses the Gordon Road and Duncan Bay Road area where complaints have been generated by local residents. “I have no jurisdiction with this because the pole peeler plant is in Campbell River.”

Ida Chong, the minister of community, sport and culture, would not comment because she has yet to receive the regional district’s letter, but said last month that she was not calling in a mediator.

She said at the time she would have no grounds as only one party – the residents – is willing, and the city has not indicated it wants a mediator.

“We would be overstepping the authority that municipal governments have,” Chong said. “At the end of the day, Campbell River has the authority to approve a business and where they’re located. The City of Campbell River has followed due process and followed the OCP (Official Community Plan) – it’s pretty hard for the ministry to step in.”

Chong also questioned whether it would be worth the resources to bring in a mediator if what the residents want, re-location of the plant, is not feasible.

And that appears not likely to happen anytime soon.

The city has already ordered the plant owner, Northern Pressure Treated Wood Ltd., to implement noise reduction measures, which it has, and is ensuring logging trucks going to and from the plant are aware of the city’s hauling restrictions.

Ross Blackwell, the city’s land use manager, said the city has no legal authority to tell the pole peeler it has to move.

“The pole peeler plant has every right to be there,” he said. “It’s a legitimate business, operating in a legitimate location. Once the sound has been attenuated and there’s no conflict with the noise bylaw, the city has no legal latitude to do anything further.”

Peter Wipper, city clerk, cleared the pole peeler two weeks ago of being in violation of the city’s nuisance bylaw.

Mayor Walter Jakeway said background noise, such as birds, traffic, and wind, is now louder in the residential neighbourhood than the pole peeler.

“I would say the owner has gone above and beyond,” he said. “I think it’s been effective. And there’s not very much dust.”

Still, Whalley said he sympathizes with residents who live near the plant and complain of ongoing noise from logs being dropped, traffic hazards from logging trucks going around the sharp corners on Duncan Bay Road, and dust from the plant.

“It’s an annoyance in a residential area,” Whalley said on Monday. “Putting a heavy industrial use area adjacent to a residential area is not compatible. Perhaps they are able to resolve the sound issue with the pole peeling plant, but that doesn’t mean that next week maybe a jet engine factory wouldn’t start up there. It’s just not a good situation.”

Residents, particularly those living in the Blue Spruce Home Park, next door to the pole peeler plant, have vocally expressed their disdain towards the pole peeler since it began operating in January. Residents have staged several protests outside of city hall, the pole peeler facility, and the Strathcona Regional District offices.

Tracey Deller, co-owner of the home park, has maintained the city did not collect all the information required when it issued a development permit to the pole peeler, and it should never have been approved.

“The permit – that’s still our big concern,” Deller said.

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