The Cariboo Regional District does not plan to weigh in on the proposed community forest application from the city of Williams Lake and Williams Lake Indian Band.
At its regular board meeting Dec. 14, several members of the board said they did not want to interfere, while a dozen representatives from rural communities east of Williams Lake listened in the gallery.
The board was asked to consider writing a letter of support for the application by the Williams Lake Indian Band.
Area F director Joan Sorley said the communities would support the application if it is amended.
“People are generally in support of this provided they can have meaningful input and get some benefits,” Sorley said, adding the communities recognize that the block is in the traditional territory of the WLIB, that’s never been a question.
“But Big Lake is 60 kilometres from Williams Lake. This is far away from the community.”
The communities have recognized all along there is room for a “win-win situation”, however the communities feel the proponents have not met the requirement for broad community support.
Sorely also said the business plan remains confidential, along with the mandate or terms of reference of a community council.
“They declined to put the terms of reference in their application. The application does say some really good things about new values and values of the community forest, if they could just nail it down a little bit more, then the communities would be happy to support it.”
Sorley encouraged the proponents to work with the communities so there’s an application everyone can support.
“If we don’t, my fear is if we simply allow the city of Williams Lake to ram it through regardless of what the communities feel their rights are that will create conflict and that’s not the kind of community forest we want to support.”
Quesnel mayor Mary Sjostrom asked why the city and band’s commitment is not enough.
“With all due respect, I don’t think it’s being rammed in. We’re looking at one as well and absolutely we need to work together, but at this point in the process to be raising concerns is confusing,” she said.
Williams Lake mayor Kerry Cook said community engagement has resulted in a stronger application.
“The communities have been engaged in a number of meetings over the last year. We haven’t come to agreement obviously, but we have listened, and made some concessions and changes to our original application,” Cook said.
In May the applicants asked if the CRD could be involved with administering a five per cent of the net profits generated from the community forest to the communities involved in the agreement.
At the board meeting Friday, the board was asked to support writing a letter to defer the request, however that motion was defeated.
“This situation is very complex,” Area J director Roger William added. “I feel that the CRD does not affect it whether they support or go against it, I think the ministry in its provincial process will make a decision.”
He also questioned if there’s a conflict in the CRD communities is it appropriate for the CRD to step in.
“Let those communities solve those issues for themselves, I’d be more comfortable with that,” William said.
Area L director Bruce Rattray echoed William and said he did not feel that he had enough information to know the right answer.
“We have two requests, an unconditional letter of support from the Williams Lake Indian Band, and a letter of support with conditions. The proponents of both letters don’t see either of these as being the common ground. There is obviously a split and I don’t feel comfortable that I know what the right answer is,” Rattray said.
Area C director John Massier suggested the board either writes a letter of support or no letter at all.
“I don’t want to write a conditional letter of support and I don’t think it’s fair to say if the application goes forward that the communities won’t have any input for the next 100 years.”
Sorley said the rural communities were asking for a meeting with the Ministry of Forests Lands and Natural Resource Operations to discuss options moving forward.
The ministry confirmed Friday that regional executive director Gerry MacDougall plans to meet with rural representatives regarding the Community Forest Agreement discussions with the proponents, the ministry said in an email.
“As well the ministry continues to be engaged with the First Nation and the municipality and will continue to communicate with them until all details of the proposed agreement have been worked out.”