A hearing with the volunteers who upgraded the Eagle Pass Summit fire lookout is now being planned following a provincial investigation into the structure’s redevelopment.
Volunteers with the project have been told their actions could result in a fine of $10,000 and demolition of the structure.
“In the evidence binder, they’re pushing for a $10,000 fine and remediation of the cabin which they mention was a historical pile of rocks before, and they want it returned back to that state,” comments Rene St. Onge, one of the volunteers who helped build the cabin that now sits on the foundation of a former fire lookout.
In a statement from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, the next step will be an “opportunity to be heard” hearing in May and, following that, a statutory decision-maker will consider all the evidence and determine whether the cabin should be removed or modified and the site remediated.
“At their discretion, the statutory decision-maker could also impose administrative penalties of up to $10,000,” says the ministry statement.
“The ministry is unable to provide further comment until this hearing process is complete.”
A stop-work order dated Sept. 5, 2017 was posted at the lookout as the ministry launched an investigation into the lookout’s restoration.
In a previous interview with the Observer, St. Onge said he attempted to acquire provincial approval to reconstruct the cabin, but was told by a manager with FrontCounter BC in Kamloops it wasn’t needed because the work would be done on an existing structure.
“What they need to do is say, ‘you know what, there was a miscommunication,’” said St. Onge. “‘There was permission for this cabin, it’s beautiful, thank you very much.’ That’s all you need to do.”
The cabin sits an elevation of approximately 7,500 feet, atop a rugged, rocky mountain peak. The cabin is a 14- by 14-foot engineered refurbishment of the original Eagle Pass Summit fire lookout, originally constructed in 1922. Carried out over the past two years by volunteers and donations, the became a concern for the ministry when it was discovered the work was done without official permits.
In response to the investigation, the Shuswap Trail Alliance (STA) issued a public statement that refers to the historic lookout as a key destination for trails in the area.
“To this end, the Shuswap Trail Alliance supports a working solution with the local group along with regional and provincial leadership to complete and manage the site. We certainly do not advocate dismantling the new Eagle Pass Lookout structure (if that is an option being considered), particularly given the significant donation of time and funds from the local community.
“While we acknowledge there was clearly confusion in the initial process for planning and approving recreational projects like this within the province, we have spoken with the proponents of the new structure and believe their intent was in keeping with the values of the area.”
Local politicians have also voiced support of the reconstruction project, including Shuswap MLA Greg Kyllo, Splatsin band councillors and Sicamous Mayor Terry Rysz.
Having read the evidence report, Rysz said the ministry is attempting to address concerns regarding process and the setting of a precedent. He said he can see the ministry holding the volunteers accountable for not following process, suggesting a public fundraising effort could result to assist with paying the fine. But Rysz stressed he is vehemently opposed to the lookout being returned to rubble.
“To take and destroy that particular thing would be just awful; It would be so wrong, it would just be so wrong,” said Rysz. “Somehow we’ve got to find amnesty for that little unit built on top of that mountain.”
In October, Rysz and members of the Splatsin council travelled to the lookout to install bunkbeds.