$20K fine for Sicamous man who restored century-old fire lookout - InfoNews

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$20K fine for Sicamous man who restored century-old fire lookout

A helicopter delivers building supplies to the remote fire lookout at Eagle Pass. (still shot from YouTube video).
Image Credit: Bevan Burke/YouTube
May 10, 2019 - 11:38 AM

SICAMOUS - A Sicamous man has been slapped with a $20,000 fine for his role in the reconstruction of a century-old fire lookout perched high on top of a mountain.

Guy Maris is appealing the $20,000 fine dished out to him by the province for his part in the restoration of the isolated mountain cabin.

A decision on March 5 by Okanagan Shuswap Natural Resource district manager Ray Crampton, finds Maris contravened two sections Forest and Range Practices Act and received the highest fine possible for conducting work without the authority to do so. The province confirmed Maris had appealed the decision and had not as yet determined how this would proceed as it was in its very early stages.

According to the Ministry of Forests, Maris and Sicamous snowmobile guide Rene St. Onge conducted work on the Eagle Pass Ridge fire lookout without authority and failed to comply with a stop work order. St. Onge died in a snowmobiling accident in December 2018 and therefore was not fined.

Maris and St. Onge crowdfunded $30,000 to reconstruct the hut originally built in 1922 and located high on a mountain peak between Sicamous and Revelstoke. The pair received the blessing of several politicians and the support of thousands through on an online petition. The work took place throughout the summer of 2016 and helicopters were used to lift materials to the site.

Eagle Pass fire lookout
Eagle Pass fire lookout
Image Credit: Rene St. Onge

A one minute video made by Maris and St. Onge of the reconstruction has all the hallmarks of a Hollywood trailer complete with dramatic music and breathtaking scenery. The clip has been viewed almost 23,000 time on YouTube.

However, Crampton in his decision accuses Maris and St. Onge of treating crown land as their own private property, knowingly solicited funding for an illegal act and continued after being made aware authorization was needed.

Crampton says he believes on the "balance of probabilities" the pair intended to use the cabin for commercial purposes, which warranted a higher penalty. Crampton cites the roof of the cabin was rated to withstand 100,000 pounds and could be used as a helicopter landing pad and that commercial helicopter trips to the fire lookout may be offered.

Crampton also points to permanent beds installed in the hut, as a reason to believe the hut would be used for tourism purposes and not as a general purpose emergency shelter as Maris had indicated. He also cites concerns for mountain goats and caribou, and the stress that may have been caused by the helicopters.

According to the decision, Maris and St. Onge were under the impression authorization was not needed as the hut was an existing structure.

The decision says St. Onge had been told authorization for an existing structure was not needed during a conversation with a FrontCounter BC director in 2008.

Crampton states he finds it "not plausible" the pair did not understand their obligations.

"It was not reasonable... to believe that authorization was not required based on the scope of the project,” Crampton said. "When planning a significant building project on crown land it would not be reasonable to proceed on the basis of a brief conversation eight years earlier."

Although the vast majority of the restoration work was carried out before the province got wind that the work was taking place, beds, a table, a solar panel and a flag were installed after the stop work order had been issued in September 2017. In the decision, Maris and St. Onge argue while they were present when this took place, they did not take part in any of the work.

However, Crampton says whether the pair "physically helped" is of "little importance" as those who did the work were "acting as agents for and under" the direction of Maris and St. Onge. Crampton says this supports his belief the pair deliberately contravened the forest act.

Crampton doesn't order the hut to be removed and says that is mainly because he would be concerned for the safety of those who would be doing the remediation.

Calls to Guy Maris were not returned.

Find past stories on the Eagle Pass lookout here.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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