Faro Firesmart fuels controversy

This summer is set to be a busy season for forest fires, but Faro may not be sufficiently protected.

This summer is set to be a busy season for forest fires, but Faro may not be sufficiently protected.

This is because of potential problems with the town’s Firesmart program, which cost it more than $55,000 and was marred by questions of conflict of interest.

Faro resident Inge Kvemo visited the Firesmart area earlier this month.

“It didn’t look very good,” he said. “It’s unbelievable.”

Kvemo has an extensive forestry and logging background and used to run the town’s Firesmart program.

The idea is to remove fuel from the bush, so that it’s easier to slow down and stop a fire, explained Kvemo.

The first thing you do is get rid of all the defective trees – anything that’s dead, leaning or damaged.

But the real key is to get rid of the stuff on the ground because that’s where the fire spreads.

This didn’t happen last year in Faro.

Kvemo was surprised to find damaged, leaning trees throughout the Firesmart area and most of the forest floor untouched, he said.

“It almost looked to me like they were only looking for firewood.”

There were piles of wood left on the ground, some as high as five feet tall.

The wood looked as if someone had picked through it, taken all the larger pieces and left the rest, said Kvemo. “There’s quite a bit of wood left.”

“The work done on this project was overall done to prescription,” said Fred Jennex, the manager of Firesmart with Community Services.

Jennex was reading from a report, written after the project inspection, which took place on December 21 of last year, after Faro had finished its Firesmart program.

There was 30 to 35 centimetres of snow on the ground, the inspector reported.

“When the snow melts there may still be brush on the ground, but that normally is taken care of by the next year’s project – they just go in and do a quick cleanup,” said Jennex.

Next year’s project will likely begin in mid to late September.

The inspector noted there was some tree scarring (a common problem), one area on the southern flank of a hill had not been treated and there were two bushpiles remaining.

“Other than that, the site was left clean with fuel wood stacked neatly.”

Timber suitable for firewood should be taken to the road “where practical,” Jennex explained.

But in most cases area residents have to walk into the site or drive in with their ATVs to get the wood out.

“In this particular case it wouldn’t be practical, the costs would be way too high,” said Jennex.

When Kvemo ran Faro’s Firesmart program, all of the wood was burned or brought into town for use at the campgrounds without particularly high costs.

“They were paying to rent an ATV and trailer,” said Kvemo. “They should have used the bloody things to get rid of all this wood.”

The ATV was rented from Vainio Construction, which is owned and operated by Mark Vainio, Faro’s manager of operations, who helped organize the project.

“He didn’t have a license, a contract, or insurance,” said Kvemo. “It’s mind-boggling.”

Vainio has since added equipment rental to his business licence.

The trailer was rented from Nexis Information Technologies and Storage.

The company specializes in “computer repair and data storage.”

It’s owned by Brad Beaumont, the common-law partner of former CAO Rose Price, said Kvemo.

In January, Price was suspended from her job for, among other things, “questionable hiring practices.”

Despite several phone and e-mail requests over the past two weeks, the town of Faro and mayor Heather Campbell have refused comment.

The Firesmart program was projected to cost the town a total of $55,285. The territory was asked to pony up $49,048.

The town received $41,600 from the government, according to a report by Vainio.

The town originally planned to have the project finished by October 31 but finished December 18 because it was late getting started and was undermanned due to absenteeism.

Price reported she made inquiries for renting two ATVs and snowmobiles by asking employees.

On October 6, Price asked four employees, including operations manager Mark Vainio, if the town could use their machines.

Vainio didn’t want to give his ATV up for that amount of time, she reported.

The next day, she asked another employee and two community members about equipment rentals without luck.

October 8, Price asked Vainio again to rent his ATV for the Firesmart program.

Vainio did not want to, she said, because he was concerned of the perception of the community.

In the end, he received $7,402.50 for equipment rental of an ATV, snowmachine and sled.

Price also rented a trailer from her common law partner, Brad Beaumont, said Kvemo.

After two weeks use the trailer was returned because it was not needed and Beaumont was paid $750.

Jennex has received complaints about this conflict of interest in Faro’s program.

“I was asked to review the final report to see if there are any discrepancies that would cause an audit and there are none,” he said.

“There aren’t any outlandish discrepancies, they’re a little high on one end, a little low on the other, but it all evens out.”

“If, in fact, there was anything done here that would trigger an audit, I have the ability to trigger an audit,” he said.

“And I did not find anything in there that was out of control.”

The rentals were made without a tender but this isn’t something that Jennex worries about generally.

“We don’t get that picky,” he said. “We have to have some trust in the townships.”

However, the Firesmart contribution agreement requires the town to “ensure fairness and reasonable consideration is given to all proposals when tendering contracts.”

“It seems like the purpose of Firesmart is just to fill somebody’s pockets instead of preventing a fire,” said Kvemo. “It’s very disturbing.”

Contact Chris Oke at

chriso@yukon-news.com