Cascade Lower Canyon Community Forest board fired

The three partners are reviewing grant policies and procedures

The Cascade Lower Canyon Community Forest (CLCCF) board of directors has been let go pending an operational review of the corporation.

The partners – District of Hope, Fraser Valley Regional District and Yale First Nation – issued a termination letter to the board on Nov. 13, stating concern of the legalities of the grant processes and procedures currently employed. To facilitate the review process, all current directors have been removed and an interim board appointed.

“This isn’t personal. They as a board made a decision that was going to jeopardize the entire community forest,” said Mayor Susan Johnston, on behalf of the partners. “We can’t let that happen. At the end of the day, local governments are accountable to the public.”

A 25-year renewable community forest agreement was signed between the three partners in 2012 allowing the CLCCF to cut 31,000 cubic meters of timber annually between Hope and Yale, and in a small area of Sunshine Valley. Lumber production and milling is managed by Tolko Industries. They are responsible for logging the forest, reforestation, and compensating CLCCF for the lumber produced. The profits are then distributed back into the partners’ local area by way of project grant funding.

After looking over the financial statements earlier this year, the partners met with the board of directors in May to review some of the policies and procedures. Johnston said money had been given out before things like tax implications had been ironed out. At that time, the board was instructed not to distribute any more community grants.

“We went away from that meeting feeling that everyone understood, not perhaps that they all agreed, the importance of the disbursement of funds,” she said. “Recently, we were quite surprised to find out that the board went ahead and approved the disbursement of more funds against the recommendation of the partners.”

Deanna Venusio, who is in charge of board administration and communications, said they waited months to hear back from the partners before deciding to approve three grants at the end of October. There was money available at the time for grant dispersal and six outstanding grant applications.

“The board is relatively frustrated with it. They understood when they were forming that the money is supposed to go back into the communities, whether it’s recreation or community services,” said Venusio, pointing out that CLCCF handed out $116,000 in community grants last year.

“(The partners) want control of the finances and to decide who gets what. I’ve been going over the partnership agreement and it doesn’t say anything of the sort. It just says we have the power and authority to run the business. They are actually taking away our responsibilities and not allowing us to work independently of the partnership.”

However, while the board has the discretion to review and make recommendations on grant applications, Johnston said it’s actually the partners’ responsibility to authorize them. Grants that have already been approved will be distributed after the review process in the new year if the projects meet CLCCF criteria.

“There will be no money kept on behalf of the government,” Johnston added. “We don’t want the money, we’re not looking for the money, but it has to come through our coffers in order to come out the other side without tax implications.”

According to the termination letter, a joint workshop with interested previous board members will be facilitated once the review process is completed followed by a reappointment process by each of the three partners.

“From my perspective, I would say we would welcome them back provided they understand why and how this has to work,” said Johnston. “The recent board did a good job. It’s not saying we’re unhappy with the job they did. They gave their time and commitment and they brought the community forest to actually being in operation. When the time comes they will probably be invited to re-apply to be a board member.”

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