New resources road act impacts users

Resource roads in B.C. administered through provisions found in up to 11 different laws, many regulating a specific industry or activity.

The government introduced new legislation in 2008 to consolidate resource road legislation. Currently, resource roads in B.C. are administered through provisions found in up to 11 different laws, many of which regulate a specific industry or activity.

Resource roads are built for a specific purpose but often used by multiple industries as well as businesses, First Nations and the public.

The Natural Resource Road Act (NRRA) will attempt to improve on the private and public use of resource roads in the province.

A “resource road” is defined as any road utilized by motorized vehicles on Crown land, and any road on private land that has been authorized by government, but does not include public roads (highway, municipal, federal), roads covered by a Mines Act permit or private roads.

For anyone who has used the back roads of the province you probably realize that most of them were built for timber harvesting purposes. According to one source, of 450,000 kilometres of resource roads, 58,000 km are Forest Service Roads, close to 200,000 km are permit/licence roads and the balance are orphan or “non-status” roads.

The provincial government has taken considerable time and effort to include as many groups as possible prior to the drafting of new legislation resulting in a number of documents which can be obtained at http://www.for.gov.bc.ca/mof/nrra/.

One document published on April 12, 2012 described the results of fourteen working groups that were formed to address the following topics:

How well these policy options align with the project objectives and principles, what are the associated costs and benefits to stakeholders and what resources would be required to make these options work?

The role of these working groups is to pinpoint a range of policy options that may help address any issues identified.

The working groups are comprised of government employees as well as industry workers, representatives from impacted organization, and other interested parties, all of whom are volunteers.

The following are some of the results of the fourteen committees:

One of the principles underlying the NRRA is that roads built by industry should be left open to motor vehicles if possible.

Companies that construct or maintain resource roads may have good reason to restrict access, for example to ensure safety during road maintenance.

However, it is important to balance the rights of the maintainer to restrict access to a road with the opportunities of people to use the road. This working group is looking at options to ensure a reasonable balance between these two objectives.

Safety issues are numerous and vary from the basic rules of the road to design and construction, maintenance and deactivation, compliance and enforcement, use expectations, hazard identification, communication with user groups, and incident tracking.

Another group was tasked with examining the options of having a public watchdog for resource roads under the NRRA. The group is using the Forest Practices Board as a starting point to engage with the issues and provide an assessment of the benefits and drawbacks of having road oversight.

The parties who have an interest in a road can be diverse. They could include large and small commercial users, industrial users, recreational users, and people who rely on the road to access their residence or rural community. It is therefore necessary to have some form of user input that the Designated Decision Maker can consider when making road-related decisions.

A group dealing with costs stated that there are two aspects to cost sharing: capital costs and maintenance costs.

If a company needs to construct a resource road, there may be other users who would benefit from the road’s existence. In that case, it may be desirable for the parties to share the capital cost of constructing the road.

For existing roads, the NRRA will designate a primary road user as maintainer. If there are other road users (industrial/commercial), they should also share in the costs of maintaining a road.

The construction of a road often requires the installation of structures such as bridges, which can be portable. When a primary user has finished with a resource road, they may want to remove and reuse their structure on another road. Other users who have come to rely on a road will not want the structure removed as the removal would interfere with their continued use of the road.

This working group is examining the possibilities around who should have ownership and control of structures on resource roads and how best to balance the interests of industry and other users. Industrial and public use of the access in the newly formed Williams Lake Community Forest will be a good place to see how some of these new ideas will work for all users.

Jim Hilton is a professional agrologist and forester who has lived and worked in the Cariboo Chilcotin for the past 40 years. Now retired, Hilton still volunteers his skills with local community forests organizations.