Timber rights on a piece of City of Powell River-owned property known as Lot A may still be owned by Island Timberlands.
At the committee of the whole meeting on September 3, a letter from resident George Orchiston was received by the committee, making a case for the city to represent the interests of its residents and publicly declare its ownership of timber on Lot A, which is the property extending from Brooks Secondary School to the city waste transfer site above Willingdon Beach in Townsite. The city purchased the 132-acre property in 2017 for the sum of $800,000.
Following the receipt of Orchiston’s information, city chief administrative officer Russell Brewer said there have been a number of queries that have come the city’s way regarding timber rights, on that parcel in particular.
“I’m thankful to be able to provide some information to Mr. Orchiston and I will send him the information, as well as a couple of others who have had questions over the past couple of years,” said Brewer.
Brewer wrote a memo in response to questions that have been raised regarding the timber rights on the lot Orchiston referenced. He said it is also applicable to the former golf course lands on the other side of the highway as well.
Brewer told the committee that around June 1998, the property’s former owner issued logging licences, which provided the licensee, at that time MacMillan Bloedel Ltd., with full right and privilege to harvest and remove the timber on Lot A in accordance with a harvesting plan. Brewer said once the timber has been harvested in accordance with the agreed to harvesting plan and removed from the lands by the licensee, this licence and all the rights inferred will terminate. Any remaining timber not harvested by the licensee at that time will belong to the licensor.
Brewer said it appears that approximately 22 per cent of Lot A was harvested and the timber removed between September 1999 and April 2002. However, no party has been able to locate or confirm whether the logging was done pursuant to a harvesting plan under the licences, he added.
Brewer said the city was aware of the licences when it acquired Lot A and there was some public discussion whether the logging rights under the licences were still in effect. Brewer added that the city has received legal advice that indicates the licences were validly executed, that Island Timberlands is now the legal assignee of the rights granted under the licences, and the city is legally bound by the obligations of the licensor under the licences.
“The legal advice provided to the city also indicates that unless a harvesting plan can be found that determines the rights of the licensee under the licences, the timber harvesting rights conferred by the licences have not been extinguished and remain subject to a mutually acceptable harvesting plan to be agreed to by the licensor and the licensee,” said Brewer. “On the basis of legal advice, the city is proceeding cautiously on this question and council will be considering a full range of options. The public will be kept informed as the city moves forward on this matter.”
Councillor CaroleAnn Leishman said given that a harvesting plan that was probably created in 1998 cannot be found, the city would need Island Timberlands to provide a new harvesting plan that identifies each and every tree that could have been in existence in 1998, and that is all they have the right to harvest. Brewer said that was correct and any future harvesting would have to be a mutually agreed to harvest plan.
Mayor Dave Formosa said there is probably a harvesting plan somewhere, which the city has been trying to locate for some time. He said a portion of land was logged and the city is aware of where it is.
“I believe that area was logged and anything that has grown in the meantime should be ours,” said Formosa. “I believe that’s an area we would want to stand firm.
“From the area they logged, all the way to upper Millennium Park, would be the area where they still have the rights to the trees and they would have to come to us with a logging plan that is mutually agree to.”
Brewer said Island Timberlands held an open house in 2015 and presented draft harvest plans to the public. They did draft plans but stepped back, added Brewer.
Councillor George Doubt said the approach the city should take is to try and get a copy of the harvesting plan and see if that plan has been put into effect and there’s no more “harvestable” trees on there – that’s one possibility.
“Right now, it doesn’t look like the alleged owner of the trees has a plan to harvest them and if they do, that is the time for the city to get involved and work on an agreed harvest plan,” said Doubt. “We would be better off to stay where we are, understand the value of the trees and the value of the property to the city, and let the alleged owner of the trees make the determination if they want to get into discussion with the city about harvesting plans.”