Column: long-term road planning needed for many areas of the province

Columnist Jim Hilton on the recommendations for Cariboo evacuation routes

There were a number of recommendations concerning evacuation routes in the “Cariboo – Chilcotin Wild fires 2017” report. Alternate routes to the main paved roads were considered very important for any future evacuations. These alternates should be well marked and maintained which would provide some assurances that there is more than one way of escape. Take the time to look at the video of people leaving the Fort Mac fire if you have doubts about the importance of evacuation options.

Considering the number of times highway 20 was closed, I was reviewing a map of the existing logging roads to see what options might be available for alternate routes north to Quesnel and possibly Highway 16. There were some obvious examples where the roads leaving highway 20 came very close to those going to Quesnel and some four wheel drivers may have already made the connections but no doubt work will be needed for cars, light trucks and SUVs etc. to use the roads safely. Once a road or roads are chosen and upgraded for emergency use it would also provide alternates for delivery of fire fighting equipment as well as chip trucks which might be involved with moving residual products from salvage operations.

While I was working on an article about the use of residual forest products for a possible biofuel plant in the west Chilcotin, I think the road access issue could be critical for the development of potential commercial ventures. I have been involved with access management plans before and I am aware of liability, maintenance and wild life concerns but there are ways of dealing with these issues if the advantages out number the negative aspects.

The article I was referring to was in the March / April issue of the Logging and Sawmilling Journal by author Tony Kryzanowski about a British based Active Energy Group (AEG) trying to secure a 140 thousand cubic meter harvest agreement within the northern peninsula of Newfoundland. The company has earmarked $47 million dollars US to develop a biofuel plant using their harvest agreement along with wood waste from other suppliers to produce 40 thousand tons a year of “coal switch” which consists of a variety of products including pellets, granules, briquettes or bales. The products will be shipped out of the nearest port (St Anthony) to Europe for use in existing coal fired plants since there is a minimal switch from the traditional coal. Much of the technical research has already been done through a previous joint venture with the University of Utah south of the 49th.

There was also reference to the continuing discussions about a similar plant in Alberta with a number of Métis communities. It appears that it was mainly previous provincial government concerns that was the stumbling block for another project going forward.

From a BC coast perspective there may be some potential to use the salt laden hog material that has been difficult to deal with up to this point. ADG claims their process cleanses the biomass material of salts , minerals and other contaminants prior to the conversion process.

In summary, proper road planning must take into account many aspects including safety, fire fighting, recreation and tourism, future commercial development options as well as wild life management concerns. With the impacts of last years fires and potential of more mega fires doing nothing is no longer a viable option.

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