Another quiet night at Windy Lake. Somewhere out there, a logging truck was making its way along the road. Suddenly, a distant boom was heard in the Cree camp southeast of Waswanipi.
Curious camp dwellers ventured down the road in their longjohns to see what had happened. About 200 metres down the road, just past the bridge, the truck had missed a turn, flipped onto its side and spilled its cargo of 800 logs into the ditch.
The driver was having a nervous cigarette in the cab of another logging truck that had just pulled up. He still looked stunned. He was lucky. His only injury was a cut below his right knee.
The accident, which took place 5:30 a.m. on Sept. 23, was the fifth on this stretch of logging road that goes by Isaac Dixon’s camp at Windy Lake. The road is owned by forestry company Barrette-Chapais Ltd.
A sand truck once drove right off the bridge and plunged into the river 15 metres below. Anothertime, two children were playing in the camp close to the road when a logging truck missed a turn and drove straight into a stand of trees a few dozen metres away. In yet another incident, a truck driving too fast spilled some logs just on the other side of the camp.
A forestry worker on the scene told The Nation the latest accident was caused by driver error and excessive speed. The accident occurred right beside a sign that says the speed limit is 10 km/h (see photo). When this was pointed out to the worker, he said: “We never respect the speed limit.”
The same story is being repeated wherever forestry takes place and logging trucks ride in Cree land.
“They’re not that regulated,” said Nemaska Chief George Wapachee of the trucks. “It’s sort of a free-for-all for them.”
Wapachee said many of the trucks are driven dangerously. Common complaints are tailgaiting, not making room for passing, going too fast. Wapachee also wondered whether the companies respect limits on the size of loads. With the lack of regulation, it’s hard to tell.
Transport Quebec says forestry roads and the Route du Nord aren’t public roads and not under the Highway Code. Drivers don’t have to obey speed limits or other traffic violations. Police say drivers are getting away with everything but the most serious accidents, like those which involve a death. Even after an accident that leaves people injured, the driver usually gets off without even a ticket.
The SQ is concerned. Two years ago they asked the government for jurisdiction over the Barrette road and Route du Nord. Speed limit. So far, no response.
Wapachee said Crees are looking at expanding their own police jurisdiction to cover the roads, too. But better trucking regulations would also help, he added.
Michel Deshaies, director of forestry operations at Barrette, said no police report will be filed after the latest crash. He said he didn’t know the cause of the accident. He denied that the trucks go too fast.
Deshaies also denied knowledge of any other accidents near the Windy Lake camp.
Barrette is the only company using this road.