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The Road Less Travelled: Spectacular Forestry Road Takes Form

CAMPBELL RIVER, B. C. - It's been the topic of conversation amongst many resource operators who ply their trade on the northwest coast of Vancouver Island, where a spectacular 4-km logging road is bei...

CAMPBELL RIVER, B. C. – It’s been the topic of conversation amongst many resource operators who ply their trade on the northwest coast of Vancouver Island, where a spectacular 4-km logging road is being built on the southern edge of Kyuquot Sound, at a cost of $1.5 million.

Yet the costs are expected to be far surpassed by lucrative timber sales from this isolated wilderness, according to B. C. Timber Sales (BCTS), a B. C. government agency with a mandate to set the cost and price benchmark for timber harvested from public land in B. C.

The one-way Soatwoon Lake Road Project is being built on a peninsula that is about two kilometres wide by five kilometres long – a timbered area located near Fair Harbour, and previously thought to be inaccessible. The planning for this project took about two years, with safety a priority. Therefore, intensive engineering work was required to find a location with acceptable grades on suitable terrain, according to Dan Lake, the engineering technician in charge of the project for BCTS.

“The landscape is steep and complex, resulting in road grades of up to 24%,” says Lake of a project now in its fifteenth month, a delay caused mostly by terrain challenges. “The road gains approximately 420 metres in three kilomtres, and crosses side slopes averaging 70-90%, with five switchbacks. In addition, two sections required stabilized rock fills up to 20 metres high, and three sections required rock cuts up to 10 metres high.”

The greatest obstacle faced by the project, however, was the construction of three engineered structures. One rock gully was crossed with a geo-synthetic reinforced soil structure (retaining wall), and two large gully/stream crossings had to be stabilized with large boulders.

While the area had a sufficient supply of rock suitable for road building purposes, the material wasn’t strong enough for construction of the gully crossings.

Consequently, the crew had to seek harder rock elsewhere for the required fill. In the end, about 15,000 cubic metres of rock was hauled over 1,000 metres, resulting in frequent truck trips. It was a tedious undertaking, according to Lake, considering the haul was uphill on grades up to 22%, and limited to two trucks.

“That was something that slowed us down and really increased the price. There were sections there, where it took us two months to go 300 metres, or in that realm,”he says.

Most of the time there were only three crew members: an excavator operator, a driller, and a truck driver.When required, there were two excavators and two rock trucks and a drill.

“Sometimes there were three or four guys running those five pieces of equipment,” says Lake. “It was a great benefit to have operators that had the experience and skills required to run all of the different types of equipment.”

However, the project did experience some excellent luck. Lake hired a reliable and experienced monitoring contractor that kept the project operating smoothly and effi-ciently. The crew was blessed with excellent weather, so fine that the construction wasn’t interrupted during last year’s winter months when work could proceed at a lower elevation. The project was only interrupted once for snow, and two days due to rain and wind. And while the area can be prone to heavy rainfall, the terrain is resilient to precipitation. “There’s lots of rock,” says Lake. “There are not a lot of deep soils out there, so it drains well and the road holds up well.”

Furthermore, stumpage revenues from a preliminary timber sale which was logged following the initial phase of road construction, far exceeded expectations.

“It covered most of our costs,” says Lake. “I was expecting a good return for that block, but I wasn’t expecting what we got.”

BCTS expects to sell approximately 125,000 cubic metres of high-quality timber from this development, which has already proven to be profitable in the early stages.

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