By Jim Stirling
It rained a lot last fall throughout the Peace River valley of northeastern British Columbia. Water levels in the river and its tributaries rose as a result.
The weather pattern—while hardly unprecedented—was no help to log harvesting crews anxious for their seasonal start on a time sensitive and different kind of project. The loggers’ task is to harvest merchantable timber, and clear and dispose of the brush growing from the river valley bottom on up into the steep tributary valleys.
The work is part of BC Hydro’s massive Site C megaproject, which is now expected to far exceed its $10 billion cost estimate—one report has the project coming in at a cost of $12 billion.
The Site C dam will flood more of the Peace River valley during creation of a sinewy 83-kilometre-long reservoir. The project will boost the existing hydroelectric production of the Peace by about 1,100 megawatts—which BC Hydro says will create enough energy to power the equivalent of about 450,000 homes each year.
BC Hydro’s Site C Clean Energy Project will be the third dam and hydroelectric generating station on the Peace River—there are two existing dams on the Peace: the W.A.C. Bennett Dam and the Peace Canyon Dam.
Site C has been and continues to be a politically contentious issue in B.C. The most recent issues swirl around geotechnical concerns surrounding the foundations for the project’s new powerhouse, spillways and the possible integrity of Site C’s massive earth dam itself.
Duz Cho Logging LP has been working in the Site C flood zone for about three years and knows to expect the unexpected. The company’s loggers were watching last fall’s stormy skies with more than a passing interest. The rain meant BC Hydro would have to intervene and play God. The utility lowered the river flow sufficiently to allow Duz Cho’s crews to walk their log harvesting equipment across the Peace to access its North Bank work site.
The company’s 280 hectare operating area is located approximately half way between Fort St. John and Hudson’s Hope, on Highway 27. Parts of the highway will have to be re-located to accommodate the rising waters.
Duz Cho’s operating area is a widely varied chunk of real estate requiring a corresponding range of logging systems, outlines Jacob Albertson, general manager for Duz Cho Construction, which oversees the North Bank operation from a base in nearby Chetwynd, B.C. The logging and land clearing work take place from the river valley bottom up through areas of steep slope logging and finally to hand falling and employing a Bell 212 helicopter equipped with a grapple to retrieve the wood, summarizes Albertson.
“The harvested wood varies around the site, but our logs are about 60 per cent coniferous and 40 per cent deciduous,” he says. The conifers harvested are normally sent to Canfor’s sawmill complexes in Fort St. John or Chetwynd or to West Fraser in Chetwynd. The deciduous wood is directed to Louisiana-Pacific’s manufacturing plant in Dawson Creek.
Duz Cho brings a couple of key advantages to meet the flood zone challenges: experience and versatile log harvesting equipment. Duz Cho has more than 20 years’ experience working in the region.
The Duz Cho Logging Limited Partnership is owned by the McLeod Lake Indian Band. In fact, the name Duz Cho is Tse’khene, meaning “big wood”. McLeod Lake is a small community about 142 kilometres north of Prince George. The band helped establish a template for aboriginal ownership success in the forest industry.
Duz Cho Logging has been a full phase and road building contractor since 1988 and was harvesting in excess of 800,000 cubic metres annually when the forest industry was in full swing. Duz Cho built upon its forestry success by diversifying into serving the oil and gas industries, the mining sector and other heavy construction industries throughout the Williston Lake reservoir region of north central B.C.
Duz Cho Logging hasn’t assigned a large fleet of logging equipment to the flood zone, but those that are there have proven themselves to be both productive and part of a cohesive unit.
The main production machines include: a Tigercat LX 870D feller buncher: a John Deere 748GIII skidder; a Hitachi 260 processor with a Waratah 623C head; a Tigercat 880D log loader and a Hitachi 210 with a grapple used as a decking machine. Also part of the team are a Hitachi 300LC hoe, a larger 350LC model and a Cat D6T.
“Our equipment has the production and reliability for the conditions we log in,” summarizes Albertson, who has years of hands-on experience working in the logging sector of central B.C. He was a logger for about 16 years in the Vanderhoof and Mackenzie areas, including an eight-year stint working with his dad, Fred.
It was during those times, he says, that he began to better appreciate the quality built into Tigercat logging machines.
The confidence in the equipment has been borne out in the North Bank experience. “The Tigercat 870D performs exceptionally well,” reports Albertson. “Stability, traction and performance are never an issue.”
The machine has to meet a variety of challenges on the job. For example, the buncher’s 26-inch head is sometimes required to dispatch some big old riverbank cottonwood trees more than 50 inches through the butt.
“Our project has slopes up to 60 per cent and the Tigercat 870D manages them with stability and control without compromising performance,” he notes.
Albertson has a Plan B if needed. “When back-up support is needed, we can use our Tigercat 880 log loader. It is another leader in the industry for stability and performance. Combining the two machines together allows us to meet our production targets with confidence. The rest of our logging phases are completed by a John Deere skidder and Hitachi Foresters for processing and decking. The John Deere and Hitachi carriers have production and reliability in the conditions we log in,” he continues.
The need to be adaptable comes with operating in the Site C flood zone territory. “It’s very different from conventional logging,” says Albertson.
BC Hydro calls the shots on the log harvesting and clearing procedures to be followed. “BC Hydro is very safety and environmentally conscious,” notes Albertson. Tailgate safety meetings, for example, are held daily.
On the environmental front, logging companies can’t access work sites until after bird nesting windows close toward the end of August. And bear denning areas encountered must be avoided by harvesting activities by a minimum of 300 metres.
BC Hydro assigns an environmental monitor to each logging show, adds Albertson. Logging crews need to be sensitive to fuel spill risk. Spill trays must be positioned when filling up log harvesting and other equipment. Drip trays must be positioned appropriately overnight to capture errant leaks. Environmentally friendly oil is used in logging equipment to mitigate environmental damage in the event of a spill. “You have to take the necessary time with these procedures,” adds Albertson.
Duz Cho’s “navy”—a 21-foot fish boat—ferries loggers across the river to access their equipment that was previously walked across the river during the BC Hydro engineered river drop. After harvesting the merchantable wood, Duz Cho’s hoes come in behind to ‘rake” the remaining small fibre into debris piles for disposal, usually during the following fall, depending on those autumn rains.
The Peace is a large river with channels and currents. It’s one reason why logging in the flood zone is not like the average clearcut assignment. “It’s not cut and dried,” declares Albertson. “There are lots of challenges.” Meanwhile the clock is ticking. Within a couple of years, this part of the Peace River valley will disappear forever beneath the rising waters.
On the Cover:
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