A property 20 kilometres west of Smithers that has been used off and on for public access to the Bulkley River is back in public hands.
The Regional District of Bulkley-Nechacko (RDBN) announced last week it had purchased the Trout Creek property from a private owner.
Mark Fisher, RDBN director for Rural Electoral Area A (Smithers), said public access to the river at that point has been a hot button issue with area residents because the access has come and gone with various owners, as it did with the last owner.
Fisher confirmed the purchase price was $500,000, more than $100,000 less than the assessed value for the 33-hectare plot with a two-storey house and garage.
“It’s exciting,” Fisher said. “I know some people probably have some issues with government buying something like that, but it’s pretty overwhelming that people are happy.”
Not everyone is pleased, however.
Dave Anderson, who lives on a nearby property, said he found out about the sale when a sold sign went up and he talked to the person who was housesitting for the previous owner.
At the least, Anderson said, the RDBN should have consulted with taxpayers.
“I don’t know what kind of budget they run there, or how much they’re allowed to spend without any consultation, but $500 [thousand] and change is a little much, I think, when other things could be done with that money,” he said.
Anderson posed the question to Stikine MLA Doug Donaldson.
“The Local Government Act (LGA) provides regional districts with corporate powers giving the regional district board the authority to acquire and manage property,” an emailed response from Donaldson’s office stated.
Nevertheless, Anderson thinks it was an unnecessary purchase and therefore not worth it, noting that aside from a handful of guide-outfitters who need access to the property, members of the public already have access via the highway right of way.
“My stand is that there was access under current boundaries of the highway right of way on both east and west sides with plenty of parking on the west side along the old portions of Hwy 16 that are still present,” he said. “The gates not allowing the public to this area were placed on Ministry of Highways ( public) right of way, an illegal act which has been proven in a court of law from a Merrit BC judgement where the landowner placed a gate on a public road to a lake that was used for recreational fishing.”
Fisher acknowledged that the purchase came together very quickly, but that public feedback has been very positive and the acquisition aligns with the district’s long-term recreational planning. In June the RDBN released its Parks and Outdoor Recreation Study.
“We’re currently doing a lot of work around recreation in the rural areas … so, it kind of fit in perfectly with the stuff we’re doing and, just over the years, people talk about it all the time, the access, how it comes and goes,” he said, adding that once residents have had a chance to give their input, he believes the purchase will be supported.
Fisher also noted the district was able to come up with the cash by juggling various grant funds they had available, adding they consulted with the provincial and federal governments to make sure they were supportive of the move.
Fisher said the site has huge potential. For example, there is a waterfall nearby that could be an attraction, and the house could be developed into something.
Anderson also raised concern that it may not just be the purchase price, but that there could be expensive remediation involved. He said around 30 years ago there had been a gas station and mechanic’s shop on the property and all of that, including the gas tanks, was merely covered over when the property changed hands.
Fisher said he had also heard those rumours, but the district did its due diligence.
“We did the homework and there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with the property,” he said.
The Interior News has been unable to confirm whether or not a gas station ever existed there.
Anderson is also worried that remediation work on Toboggan Creek that could eventually lead to a second bridge where current public access to the river exists might require modification of the property and additional burden on Rural A taxpayers.
Fisher doesn’t think that will be a problem, either.
“We did talk to the ministry of transportation about different issues to see if they have any major concerns,” he said. “There are some little ones that we’re going to be able to address. We don’t have any major concerns in terms of that stuff, but we would love to work together with the ministry of transportation to make sure [the property] meets everybody’s needs going forward.”
In any event, Fisher said there will be no additional expenditure without extensive consultation.
“For me, I’m really cautious about what it’s going to be without public buy-in,” he said. “For me, it’s access to the river and enjoyment. It’s going to help with parking, people can wander to the waterfall, but in terms of any money spent, I’m not going to support that until we really get a feel for what people are willing to contribute and really want as vision.
“It needs to be a very clear business case and it has to be done with both vision and financial contributions from the community and from user groups specifically, but there is a lot of interest.”
Use and potential development of the property will be the subject of a public consultation process that will start over the winter, Fisher said. Details are yet to be announced.