Penner under political fire as byelection campaigns heat up

MLA Barry Penner's role in allowing logging in Spotted Owl habitat is being questioned by the Friends of the Chilliwack River Valley.

Chilliwack-Hope MLA Barry Penner’s role in a gravel mine approval and allowing logging in Spotted Owl habitat is being questioned by the Friends of the Chilliwack River Valley.

But Penner dismissed the allegations Wednesday as the kind of political rhetoric expected before the upcoming byelection to fill his seat as he leaves provincial politics.

“I expect to hear more of the same as the byelection unfolds,” he said.

Penner denied he had anything to do with the decision to allow logging in the wildlife habitat area (WHA) set aside to protect Spotted Owls.

“I had nothing to do with the logging decision,” he said. “Ministers don’t issue logging permits.”

By legislation, forestry officials make those decisions, he said, not ministers, to keep politics out of the process.

Penner said he’d seen the CFV’s news release, but he did not comment on the allegation that when he was environment minister he had halted an environmental assessment of a proposed gravel mine in Larsen’s Bench.

CRV spokesman Glen Thompson said environment ministry officials had earlier stated the decision “was made by Barry Penner himself.”

Thompson said he could produce a document to back up the allegation, but he also felt Penner had an obligation to meet with the CRV and disclose how both these decisions were made.

“This was done on his watch,” Thompson said. “That’s something we want to ask him before he disappears.”

Thompson said the CRV only learned of the logging approval at a public meeting held last fall by Tamihi Logging officials.

“It appears most likely that Mr. Penner would be involved in the negotiations since he was the minister responsible, and the WHA is located in his riding,” Thompson said.

“Three years is a long time to negotiate what amounts to two or three weeks of work,” he added. “We wonder if there are more surprises coming.”

Thompson was going to run for the NDP nomination in the riding, but later withdrew his name.

However, federal NDP MP Peter Julian has been invited to a tour of the Spotted Owl habitat on Dec. 20, along with Western Canada Wilderness Committee officials who held a campout last year to protest logging in the area.