SpruceRoots Magazine - July, 1998


by Clemens Rettich

Bill Beldessi has been connected with Moresby Island since 1954, when he lived at Moresby Camp with his parents. Bill's father was the woods manager for Alaska Pine. Bill Beldessi has only wanted to be one thing most of his life -- a logger. These two elements -- Moresby Island and logging have shaped his life.

In the last few years Bill has tried his hand at shaping those elements himself. He is a director of the Sandspit Harbour Society, the Regional District director for Moresby Island, the Islands Community Stabilitiy Initiative (ICSI) representative for Moresby Island, and he is going to be the interim chair of the Standing Community Committee of the Regional Board (first elections were held Wednesday, July 1).

I went to Bill's home in Sandspit and talked with him about his activities in the community.


Standing 'Round the Regional Board

Clemens: For years in Sandspit, there have been debates about the kind of political structure the community should adopt. This process gelled in 1996 with the Sandspit 2006 community visioning process. At that time a number of options for governing were put on the table, particularly an Economic Development Commission, and the dreaded "I" word, Incorporation. The Standing Community Committee of the Moreseby Island Advisory Planning Commission (MIAPC) is the latest development in Sandspit politics. Bill Beldessi and members of the MIAPC have set up a Standing Community Committee under the aegis of the Regional District. Queen Charlotte has gone through the same process. The Community Committee provides Sandspit with a significant level of economic and political leverage: the community can now enter into contracts and have its own water and sewer commission, for example.

I asked Bill what was happening with the regional district board these days

Bill: I've really, really enjoyed being regional director of Moresby Island. Sometimes we on the Island here think that we're the only people who have got the problems we've got. You discover really quick that it doesn't matter if you're a community of 15,000 or 500; everybody's got the same basic problems.

I've really enjoyed working with the mayors of Port Edward and Prince Rupert. I've worked pretty hard to develop some alliances there that help us all. They really weren't paying much attention when we kept telling them that they should be looking out for the timber that's there, until their mill (Skeena Cellulose) got into trouble. On the Island here we're talking about setting up a resource board, and a community forest.

At Regional District we developed some pretty in- teresting rules and regulations to deal with logging permits, especially helicopter drops. We're requiring companies to fill out a form [if they're using crown lands as a drop zone] that includes questions about how many jobs they're bringing into the regional district.

Working on the Regional Board gave me an opportunity to kind of look at what other people are doing; to spread my wings a bit, personally.

Clemens: What does this new Standing Committee of the Regional District mean to the community of Sandspit?

Bill: What it means to the community is that they are going to be able to do business on behalf of the community. Like, if the community wants; they can build a cemetery; they can form an economic development commission. We've already been approached by people that want to form subcommittees: recreation, water system. In the past the planning commission alwaysoperated outside of its mandate, and Duane [Gould] always let it, and I let it, because like it or not, that was the community's government. But now with this bylaw, they're legitimized. It will give the community more of a say. And more importantly, it's going to involve more people, in the subcommittees as well as the Standing Committee. That's really exciting for me, because there's never enough people involved.

It's a system the provincial government doesn't like. They'd just as soon shove incorporation down our throat. And in this community, the way things are, I don't think an incorporation vote would go.

This isn't the best way, but in my opinion it's the best we can have, for today -- Queen Charlotte just got their Standing Committee. What I/we did is research some economic development committees, and I realized what type of people they had on them. For the first committee, I appointed, but I went to different organizations and I got them to elect. We got three off the Planning Commission, two off the Chamber of Commerce, but those two positions after this time around will be elected from the community at large, and we got the Gwaii Trust representative and myself. We turned all the Planning Commission into alternates.

When the current term of office runs out there will be elections in November. [These will] coincide with the MIAPC elections.

If there is only one thing I leave the communitythis is it. This is going to make the community able to make local decisions on issues affecting themselves. I'm most excited about this.


The Harbour and the Law

Clemens: The harbour has played an interesting role in my life in Sandspit. When I first moved here a mere eight years ago, I lived in a trailer behind the airport for a few months. The community meetings that led up to the construction of the harbour were held in the SARA Hall, also behind the airport. As I had already decided that Sandspit was going to be my permanent home, gods willing, I decided to check out these meetings and see if I could be involved on some level. Big huge mistake. It was at the two meetings that I did attend that I saw the dark underbelly of small-town small "p" politics. The meetings were conducted without a strong chair, without Roberts Rules, and with precious little consideration for quiet folk: loud (and long) was right. I have since then seen this community have some extraordinary meetings, but those early harbour meetings kept me out of community processes in Sandspit for some time.

But many persevered where I ran for cover. And now Sandspit has a beautiful harbour. That did not happen without some serious bumps on the way. One was a sometimes bitter debate over the location of the harbour; a debate that drove some deep divisions between people that are still healing today, almost a half-decade later. Some of the bitterest divisions were between the "airport people" and the rest of the community. Much of this has passed, but it was a low point in Sandspit's attempts to maintain a cohesive community. The other bump occurred as the harbour was nearing completion. Here is the story in Bill's own words:

Bill: The problem with the harbour was that we couldn't get sufficient rock from the pit here [in Sandspit], and the contractor from Vancouver, JJM Construction, got rock in Alaska that didn't meet the specifications. We didn't know, and it wasn't until near the end, that this rock wasn't to specification. We went through the court case. That lasted a couple of years. We actually fought the court case on a counter-petition. He was suing us. Last month the judge ruled on our behalf on all counts.

The 30-day period for filing and appeal ran out on July 3rd. After that we can make application for our damages.

Under his contract, the contractor was required to do rock sampling at any new pits, and he was also required to give us written notice. What he did was he went to Alaska, took a half a barge load of spec'ed rock, and then went to another pit without notifying us. How we finally found out was the on-site inspector for Westmar [Westmar held the design and management contract for the harbour project] jumped on a boat one day and went up to take a look and discovered they weren't at the pit they were supposed to be. But that was near the end of the job.

Clemens: So JJM was caught placing down substandard rock, and the Sandspit Harbour Society refused to pay for the work done, and for the sourcing of new rock. Now that the court case is finished, what about the substandard rock?

Bill: We have already effected the overlay of rock over the sub-spec rock, which was the solution. We didn't sit back and wait for the court case, we just went and did it. So basically it's been fixed.

Duane Gould and I were down in Vancouver for almost three months, and Duane spent much more time than me, because he went to all the trial discoveries, probably a month or so at least. There were nine lawyers in this case; we really discovered the lawyers work a lot better when you're sitting behind them!

Clemens: So what does this mean to the community?

Bill: I think what this means is that everybody won't have to worry about the rumors of losing the harbour, and the lawsuit or anything. And I think we're going to end up with some more money coming back too. That's what the next court case will tell.


Some other thoughts on the waterfront

Bill: Through the Harbour Society, Duane and Gord Nettelton and I are looking at buying the Alliford Bay and Sandspit Government wharves, as part of Transport Canada's Wharf Divestiture program. We've signed an agreement to enter into final negotiations. The advantage to this one here in Sandspit is it's fuel hookup to the airport, and it also has water. And the Regional District now is really working hard to get these pocket cruiseships, and you could dock one of those there! And that's what we were talking to some consultants about.

There's enough money to run it for 12 to 14 years, plus a tear-down fund that's attached. It would keep an option open. I won't be happy until I see one of those pocket cruiseships in there! If they just stop for coffee I'm happy!

Regarding the Alliford Bay dock what they let you do sometimes is take some of the money out of the Divestiture Fund as long as you spend it on a like project. And here we're dreaming now: we have heavy duty zoning in behind the mill where Ken Foote and Joy Dover were. We actually looked at a site there for a barge loading facility. Where they load the barges down by the dry-land sort they can only load for two hours before and after high tide. They're paying $2500 dollars a day to have a boat sitting there when they're loading barges. If we're going to have manufacturing here, we have to have a facility that people can load a barge and get out. We actually talked to some consultants who figured they could build us something for a hundred grand. And there's a possibility that could come out of the Alliford Bay dock portion of the fund.


The Jones Boys, the Haida, Timber West, and TFL 47

Clemens: One of the reasons I wanted to do this article was because of the furor around some of Bill Beldessi's comments in the Observer concerning Skidegate's interest in the Queen Charlotte Island portion of TFL 47. In a number of subsequent letters to the editor he was roundly condemned for speaking for "the majority in Sandspit." I went back and read the article in the June 18 issue of the Observer, and I must say that I didn't see anything wrong with what Bill said. I quote: "To the majority of people in Sandspit, it doesn't matter whose name is on the cheque as long as we get paid."

Now, some might quibble about the statistical veracity of the use of the term "majority," but I have seldom heard people in Sandspit have long-winded debates about who is signing their paycheck, especially considering the ownership history of TFL 47.

I also found it interesting that there was quite a bit of condemnation of Bill and ICSI in the letters for failing to consult with the community. There certainly didn't seem to be any outrage when TimberWest initiated its efforts to split off the islands portion of TFL 47 without community consultation. In the interview that follows it became clear to me that Bill, if anything was pushing the Jones boys into community consultation - much to their chagrin. I wonder if those meetings where they apparently played the "good old working boys" front for TimberWest employees counted as "consultation" in people's minds.

And if anybody on either side of Skidegate Inlet thinks J.S. Jones are just a bunch of regular working stiffs on the side of the common Joe, Click here to see the letter Bill refers to.

Clemens: I didn't ask Bill about the comments in the Observer directly, but asked him instead to outline things as he saw them.

Bill: Way back in November, TimberWest wanted to carve off the Queen Charlotte Islands portion of TFL 47. I, as Regional Board Director had a meeting with Dick Jones for about three hours. One of the questions he asked was how he was going to get community support for this project. I told him take your time, don't shove this thing down anybody's throat. The first thing you have to do is contact the Haida folks. Time went on, and they didn't do any of the consultation at all. They wrote a letter to the minister, this is before the public hearing in March, saying they don't need a public hearing, which is usual in tree farm license sales, and that they had consulted with community leaders, labour leaders, and aboriginal leaders. I was down in Vancouver for the court case, and I phoned them up, and we had a meeting. I asked them who they had consulted. They said they consulted me, they consulted Chandra Lal for labour, they talked to David Crosby on the other side [at Skidegate]. I said you guys have got a lot more to do yet. We basically forced a public hearing on them, and they were very unhappy about that and that's too bad. And the Haida stood up at the public hearing and said, "You haven't consulted us."

This is where their story and my story get really different. I know there was two huge roadblocks. One was the carving off of the TFL. You know, years ago when the TFL's were set up, these companies just had to have it all. And now they come up to the Charlottes, they log the bejeesus out of it, take all the best, and now they want to carve it off. My number one position has always been, no, make them [TimberWest] come back and go to work, put our people back to work.

The number two thing was the encumbrance that the Haida have. I know for a fact that Jones' and TimberWest bigshots had a day meeting with government. The government laid out their concerns; they told them this may not go. And instead of coming back and consulting with the Haida and the people in Sandspit, they wrote a letter that basically says in our opinion [the Haida] don't have any rights, and if they did, pass a law and take them away! And then they threaten the Government and say if you don't get this through we're going to go back to Toronto and tell everybody on the Toronto Stock Exchange that B.C. is not open for business! Funny way to consult! It was after that letter, that I ever heard that Skidegate might block the sale.

So about a month ago, I was sitting here and I decided to go over and have some meetings with some of the Haida and see if, community to community, we couldn't try to get something going. During those meetings, it became quite obvious to me that they were fairly interested in buying it. In three days we had three long meetings. I came home and talked to some people that have lived here for quite a while, and it really became obvious to me that this was our best solution to getting this community back to work. As well it meets some of the ideals of ICSI; one being local control. So when the Deputy Minister came the following day, I told him I supported the Haida ownership of the TFL, if that was still the number two option. Number one option was still to make TimberWest go back to work, and make them live up to their damn obligations. But it doesn't appear that they want to.

Clemens: For TimberWest is it purely a financial thing? They are not getting the return? Is that what it is?

Bill: God only knows! Their official reason is that this operation is so far away from their other ones, and it is too far away to control it properly.

I have to work really hard to separate my personal feelings from what's good for the community. But I'll tell you this has got nothing to do with personal feelings: I see TimberWest trying to use this community as a lever to lever the government into something they're probably not going to get. The Sandspit workers have been off work eight months. It just really peeves me off. It's my understanding that TimberWest has to meet cut control, and they applied for a waiver of their cut control. Ministry of Forests came back with a solution - there's not a reason in the world why we're not working, based on the markets and everything else. Just plain politics. It's a siege thing. TimberWest sends us a letter once a month telling us when our seniority runs out.

It's been a real hard thing. There's people hurting in this community, it's real, and it's not just the loggers.

I'm hoping there's people who've done a lot of thinking and realize that this tenure system just plain doesn't work anymore. I was a person who always believed there'd be another valley.

Clemens: Some closing thoughts Are you feeling positive?

Bill: No one feels positive when you've been laid off for eight months. Overall feeling? I ain't going. I'm staying. I'm going to stay and ride it out as long as I can. This is my home now. I think we're going to be ok. 

SpruceRoots Magazine - July, 1998