Crown reserve land-swap raises issues of public benefit

The Cariboo developer seeking a controversial land-swap that requires the provincial cabinet to revoke a lakefront Crown reserve set aside for public enjoyment 66 years ago dismisses claims he has connections to the B.C. Liberal party.

Developer Julian Kenney acknowledged that his wife worked on the 2009 campaign that wrested Liberal MLA Donna Barnett’s Cariboo-Chilcotin seat from NDP incumbent Charlie Wyse by a scant 88 votes.

Barnett told the 100 Mile Free Press last week that she’s staying at arm’s length from the land swap fuss because of a potential conflict of interest.

Julian Kenney is also listed by Elections B.C. as a principal in seven donations to the Liberal party since 2006.

“That would be [from] my law firm in Vancouver,” Kenney said of the political contributions. “I have nothing to do with the Liberal party.”

The development controversy began after the developer acquired a 25-hectare island in Bridge Lake about 60 kilometres east of 100 Mile House, in 2007. Plans to rezone the island failed at the regional district and a land swap with the province was then proposed.

In exchange for the island, which is restricted to one lot, Kenney wants an 18-hectare parcel on the adjacent shoreline. However, the parcel would have to be withdrawn from a 57-hectare Crown reserve established on the lakefront in 1945. The developer hopes to eventually subdivide the swapped parcel into 18 lots, 10 of them waterfront.

Supporters say the development will stimulate the local economy and Kenney says the project has wide local approval with two-thirds of the district residents attending public hearings about the project in favour.

But Ann Blades, a neighbouring Bridge Lake landowner opposed to the swap, argued in a letter to the local paper that if lakefront lots are worth $250,000, the developer stood to obtain a parcel potentially worth about $4.5 million in exchange for private land worth less than a million.

B.C. Assessment Authority valuations for waterfront lots on Bridge Lake next to the Crown reserve range from a maximum of $746,000 to $107,000 for a smaller vacant lot.

Kenney challenged Blades, discounting her claim that the island was bought in 2007 for $615,000, saying the island was part of a package acquisition and the estimate of value for the island alone appeared to have been made by the B.C. Assessment Authority. He wrote to the paper that “as buyers, we had no input into that allocation of value by B.C. Assessment.”

Opponents also worry about the precedent of cabinet rescinding a Crown reserve set aside for public use for more than half a century in order to facilitate a private developer who has run into difficulty persuading local government to rezone for another project.

Kenney counters that cabinet has the power to amend the Crown reserve and there would be no precedent.

But cabinet may not have the legal power to arbitrarily extinguish public rights in land it previously dedicated to public use according to West Coast Environmental Law, an organization that provides free legal advice on environmental matters.

The group’s Andrew Gage wrote to the province that “we agree with Ms. Blades’ position that the transfer will result in a significant financial gain for the developer, with only limited public benefit.”

Gage questioned whether rescinding the original order-in-council is the trivial administrative detail provincial bureaucrats appear to assume.

Under common law, Gage pointed out, if an owner designates land for a public purpose and the public then uses the land for that purpose, a public right is created. Once exercised, that right can’t simply be arbitrarily extinguished.

Given the significance of the possible precedent, cabinet had better think long and hard about it, because you can be sure every major environmental group in the province will be.

shume@islandnet.com

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

The Vancouver Sun – 2011-10-31

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Deal for Bridge Lake island would create a slippery slope     

Provincial government seems to be forging ahead with private-for-Crown land swap with little input from the public

Another day, another provincial government incursion into lands reserved for public enjoyment, this time in the Cariboo.

We just endured an acrimonious episode of this on Vancouver Island, where, to the chagrin of regional governments mandated to contain urban sprawl, the province approved the sale of thousands of sprawling hectares of working forest to developers. The working forest, remember, was industry's mantra when denouncing parks advocates as anti-forestry preservationists. An irreducible working forest was supposedly essential to B.C.'s economic health.

Any reduction in working-forest base was anathema.

So what does industry do when enabled by politicians who seem to think they're running a fire sale for the private sector rather than a province for the public interest?

Why, sell off working forest to interests whose goal is not forestry, but to exploit those same public recreational values at which industry sneered.

The Island rumpus was triggered by plans for resort development on the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, the provincial park that extends Pacific Rim National Park Reserve's internationally renowned West Coast Trail.

That plan predictably collided with public protest from the likes of former federal environment minister David Anderson, foundering at the regional district as nervous politicians took note of the gathering firestorm.

This new controversy fulminates at Bridge Lake, about 60 kilometres east of 100 Mile House.

At issue is an agreement-inprinciple by which the province would swap 18 hectares of prime real estate centring a 57-hectare waterfront parcel set aside 66 years ago by cabinet as a Crown reserve "for the recreation and enjoyment of the public."

Land in the Crown reserve would be exchanged for a small, privately owned island in Bridge Lake now held by developers.

The devil, of course, resides in the details.

Rainbow Island covers about 25 hectares.

It's zoned for minimum lot sizes of 32 hectares, says Friends of Bridge Lake, a local residents' association.

But the group claims a proposed development on land swapped out of the Crown reserve would seek rezoning for 18 residential lots, 10 of them waterfront.

It doesn't require a business degree to see why such a deal would be attractive to a developer.

The question is why it's attractive to the provincial government.

The government says in a letter to Ann Blades, one of the local landholders resisting the land swap, that because the province gets 25 hectares in exchange for 18, it's a net benefit.

What it doesn't address, though, is how a 57-hectare Crown reserve set aside for public enjoyment benefits from bisection by an 18-lot waterfront subdivision covering onethird of the area.

Then there's the bigger question of precedent.

"This land exchange, should it go through, will create a precedent, not just for this area, but for the entire province," warns Friends of Bridge Lake on its website. "Once a land exchange has been granted, the precedent has been set, opening the door for similar applications to the province."

That alone seems certain to attract the attention of some of B.C.'s big environmental players.

The group further objects that the provincial appraisal procedure which decided Rainbow Island was more valuable than the existing Crown reserve has been "far from transparent."

"We tried to get some information under the Freedom of Information Act, but were told that the information could not be made public before the conclusion of the application process - if ever!" the website declares.

These seem reasonable points.

If the provincial government can arbitrarily trade lands set aside as Crown reserves without full disclosure and vigorous discussion of whether the public interest is properly served, then what ecological reserve, sensitive habitat, public-recreation area or park remains safe from those who know the economic price of everything and the spiritual value of nothing?

shume@islandnet.com

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Stephen Hume - The Vancouver Sun – 2011-10-20

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Heritage Island land expected to go before cabinet     

The Ministry of Forests, Land and Natural Resource Operations (MFLNRO) is moving forward with a potential exchange of waterfront Crown land on Bridge Lake for Heritage Island.

Bridge Lake land owner Ann Blades has been vocal in her concerns about the land swap issue since MFLNRO's exchange offer was made to the island's owner Julian Kenney was made public last January.

Blades stated some concerns in a recent letter to MFLNRO Minister Steve Thomson and director of authorizations Ken Vanderburgh, urging the ministry to reject the proposed exchange and preserve a Crown reserve.

"We have been informed that while Ken Vanderburgh of the Williams Lake office has not made a final decision in the proposed exchange of Heritage Island for land within the Crown reserve at Bridge Lake, his office will apply this week for an OIC (Order in Council) to seek the removal of the Crown reserve," Blades wrote.

Vanderburgh confirmed his ministry office plans to submit an OIC by Oct. 21, but said it doesn't apply to the entire Crown reserve of about 58 hectares, but rather the nearly 11 ha of that, which applies to a portion of the approximately 18 ha proposed for the land swap.

The OIC is necessary for the amendment of the UREP (Use for Recreation and Enjoyment of the Public) Crown reserve in order to remove that 11-ha segment, he explained.

Kenney's agent Nigel Hemingway said he was unaware of the recent movement in the ministry regarding the OIC.

"Ann [Blades] appears to know more than we do because I do not know where it is in the process."

Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett said OICs go to cabinet for approval, and [therefore] are not an issue for legislature.

Barnett added she remains arms-length from Kenney's Bridge Lake development plans due to a potential conflict of interest, as his wife worked on her 2009 election campaign.

Blades wrote that her understanding is the MFLNRO considers the island to be ecologically more valuable than the Crown reserve, which she added is not factual.

"Environmental values provided by Heritage Island today will remain unchanged if it becomes Crown land.

"On the other hand, as [MFLNRO] has been told repeatedly, the proposed development would irreparably harm the waterfront Crown reserve by chopping it into three pieces, and would cause significant damage to environment and wildlife."

An environment ministry ecosystem biologist had looked at the lands in question on referral, Vanderburgh noted, and had made this distinction.

While he wasn't directly involved in that, Vanderburgh said his own understanding is "a large part of it" had to do with the offshore land's relatively unique feature as an island, as compared to shoreline.

Stated Blades: "Crown land and Crown reserve belong to the public. It is our land. Government officials are the stewards of this land and it is their duty to protect it for future generations to enjoy."

100 Mile House Free Press – 2011-10-19

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FBL annual fishing derby hauls in big crowd      

The Friends of Bridge Lake's (FBL) Third Annual Fishing Derby was a great success with 320 tickets sold.

Biggest rainbow trout prizes went to Luciano Burtini of Vancouver with a 2 1b. 15 oz. catch. Bridge Lake residents Richard Smith at 2 lb., and Jack Larson at 1 lb. 14oz. were second and third respectively.

The largest kokanee must have set a record, as a 5 lb. 14 oz. fish was reeled in by Kelly Powell of Vancouver. In second place, was Coquitlam's Ben Hoogstins at 2 lb., and third prize went to George Lewis of Chilliwack with a 1 lb. 15 oz. catch.

Draw prizes are too numerous to list, but the first prize of a “dream” fish-finder from Donex' Screamin' Reel went to Jarvis Sherwood of Williams Lake.

The FBL is most grateful to its host Moondance Bay Resort, its prize donors, and the public for its generous support.

The derby's net proceeds will be donated 50/50 to Bridge Lake Community School Society and Bridge Lake Elementary School Parent Advisory Committee.

Speaker series

FBL's popular Summer Speaker Series recommences at 7 p.m., July 7 at Bridge Lake School. The first speaker will be the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure district manager Michelle Schilling who will be discussing ATVs and the like, and their misuse of the roads. All residents are welcome at these evenings.

AGM slated

FBL's annual general meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m., July 9 at Bridge Lake School.

Diana Forster - 100 Mile House Free Press – 2011-06-29

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Sierra group joins land-swap protest     

Sierra Club BC has jumped on board with the Friends of Bridge Lake (FoBL) in its fight to prevent a Crown land swap by the Ministry of Forests Lands and Natural Resource Operations.

FoBL director Pam Canty announced the collaboration with Sierra Club through the Bridge Lake group's recent newsletter.

The national environmental organization has an online action page on its website to facilitate protesting the proposed land exchange through letters to Premier Christy Clark and all 19 provincial ministers.

The Sierra Club BC website at http://action.sierraclub.bc.ca/actions/protect-bridge-lake has posted a blank email letter for completion, as well as the following statement:

"The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations has offered 18 hectares of protected Crown Reserve land in the Cariboo to a developer for a subdivision as part of a land exchange.

"Your help is needed urgently to protect a safe haven for wildlife and cherished recreation opportunity on Bridge Lake ..."

The Cariboo Regional District (CRD) has already received a number of letters from local residents to express their concern about the proposed land swap on Bridge Lake for a private island.

At its May 6 meeting, the CRD board directed staff to write to the Friends of Bridge Lake advising no application for Official Community Plan amendment or rezoning has been received for the property in question.

No additional actions will be taken in response to the letters at this time, but Area L Director Bruce Rattray says if an application is received, the letters to the CRD will be included in that file and considered as part of the public-hearing process.

100 Mile House Free Press – 2011-06-01

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