SICAMOUS - We still don’t know how things will turn out for a rebuilt fire lookout in the Shuswap, but thanks to a Freedom of Information request, we know a little more about how the controversy started.
You may have heard about the Eagle Pass fire lookout earlier this year. It was rebuilt by a group of volunteers who fundraised to do the work, but because they didn’t get proper authorization, the province could have the structure torn down and the builders get fines for their efforts.
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Emails obtained in an access to information request by iNFOnews.ca suggest the investigation was sparked after a recreation officer with the B.C. government learned of the activities and made a violation report.
Our access to information response package is 90 pages long and includes photographs, emails, and other documents, some of which are redacted due to privacy laws.
The recreation officer appears to have gotten wind of the construction activities in August 2016 when a representative of the Shuswap Trail Alliance sent an email asking if she knew anything about the old fire lookout being restored and materials being brought in by helicopter. A video of the construction project was circulating online, she said.
"No one knows anything about it so I thought I would touch base with you," the member said.
She wanted to know if she should post signs on the trail about helicopter and construction activity in the area. The activity was news to the recreation officer.
In a Sept. 19, 2016 email, the recreation officer contacted the regional manager for Recreation Sites & Trails, a subsidiary of the Ministry of Forests, to say she’d made a natural resource violation report about the construction.
“I am a bit frustrated by this, although I agree a restored lookout would be great, there are many more management factors to consider….” the officer said.
An email sent on Sept. 20, 2016 by the regional manager of Recreation Sites & Trails states “we are going to want C&E (compliance and enforcement) to investigate” and notes that it will be “strongly political.”
“If it is as much of a violation as I think (completely unauthorized, no correspondence with (government), even crowd sourced funding... and [information redacted] I would not hesitate to have it removed, despite the value otherwise,” the email says.
A stop work order was issued, and the builders were notified they were under investigation.
But while internally, government employees expressed concern over the group’s approach, the project began receiving support from the community and even the region’s MLA.
In a Sept. 13, 2017 email, a natural resource officer sent a screenshot of a Facebook post by Shuswap MLA Greg Kyllo with the email heading ‘MLA is praising the Eagle Pass construction.”
“I think he should be informed that this structure was built illegally. Your thoughts on next steps?” the email says.
In the post, Kyllo applauds the builders for restoring the lookout. He has continued to publicly support the project.
Around October, numerous media outlets picked up the story after remarks were made about the cabin potentially getting “burned down” due to the unauthorized work. That comment was apparently made by a Recreation Sites & Trails member at a Shuswap Trails Roundtable meeting and, according to an email exchange, the employee regretted it.
“I apologize that I made the comment at the Shuswap Trails Roundtable "if it was in my district I would burn it". Not my call and it was a mistake….” he says in an Oct. 5, 2017 email.
It remains unclear whether the structure could actually get “burned down”. In response to a request this week for an update on the investigation, a communications officer for the Ministry of Forests supplied no new information.
“The matter is under investigation by the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development. If the construction of the cabin is found to be in violation of Forest and Range Practices Act, the ministry can pursue an administrative process whereby a decision-maker would have the authority to order the site left as is, levy a penalty, and/or remediation of the site.”
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