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Legal firm proposes bylaw supporting District of Sicamous’ authority over docks along rail trail

Columbia Shuswap Regional District accused of letting relations with dock owners become personal
Sicamous semi-waterfront property owners belonging to a group calling itself the B.C. Dock Owners Coalition have hired a legal firm to assist in efforts to secure access to their docks along Mara Lake. The docks are separated from their properties by the publicly owned Shuswap North Okanagan Rail Trail. (Google Earth image)

The District of Sicamous has been asked to adopt a bylaw, suggested by a legal firm, extending its authority around private docks.

During its March 9 meeting, Sicamous council received a presentation from Jeremy Fehr and Natalie Sorkilmo of the B.C. Dock Owners Coalition, who were accompanied via computer by their legal representatives, Andrew House and Taleesha Thorogood of the law firm Fasken.

Fehr opened the discussion by explaining he’s been without a dock for 15 months due to challenges related to the Shuswap North Okanagan Rail Trail, which runs along the rear of his semi-waterfront Sicamous property on Mara Lake.

“Just from my own side, my intention was to start a business in this community, or to bring a part of my business to this community, and that should have been set up by now, which would have been a tech business…,” said Fehr. “I can also report now that I’m bringing on 10 more programmers. That’s about a million and a half in salary… So there is a real economic cost.”

Fehr explained the Columbia Shuswap Regional District (CSRD) has become increasingly confrontational with the dock owners on Mara, so they hired Fasken, “experts that deal with government malfeasance, government issues.”

Speaking from Ottawa, House, who works in government relations for Fasken, said he wanted to talk to council not exclusively about docks, “but rather the district’s relationship with another level of government that in my view does not have the best interest of the community at heart.” He referred specifically to the CSRD, which is one of the rail trail ownership partners, along with Splatsin and the Regional District of the North Okanagan.

“The way that semi-waterfront dock owners have been treated by the CSRD is nearly a symbol of that relationship gone wrong…,” said House, assuring dock owners want to see the rail trail done. “The trail is a good idea, deserving of support, but it has to be done fairly for all… It needs to work for everyone.”

House started by asking Sicamous mayor and council if they felt they’ve lent authority to the CSRD, or “do you feel repeatedly that you find yourself under its authority, bearing the brunt of that authority brought down on you?”

He then went on to share his concerns around what he said is a “fabricated conflict” between the CSRD and the dock owners.

“There is no actual conflict – instead this has very much been a conflict about personality and ego, possibly ideology, but dollars to doughnuts it is not actually about a fight where these docks are placed. They don’t impede the rail trail,” said House.

To stress his point, House referred to information acquired from CSRD under the Freedom of Information Act – an internal email by a CSRD staff member regarding the regional district’s updated agreements with property/dock owners. It reads: “ARRGGGHH – What a great deal of time and $$ Mr. Fehr has caused us. It would serve him right if we decided not to renew the agreement in 5 years.”

“In law this is an inappropriate basis upon which to make a decision about a resident in seeking a benefit from a public body,” said House. “You literally can’t do this.”

Read more: Columbia Shuswap Regional District dismisses claim it plans to bring rails back to rail trail

Read more: Shuswap North Okanagan Rail Trail partners dismiss ‘smear tactics’ around project

Later, House shared part of a letter sent by a Lower Mainland law firm to a semi-waterfront dock owner: “If the Regional Districts do not receive a satisfactory response to this letter by March 15, 2022, the Regional Districts will be consulting with us further with respect to legal remedies to address the trespass and unauthorized use of their lands.”

House called this a pressure tactic to force private citizens to sign deals with a public body.

As a solution for the dock owners and the district, House proposed a bylaw on dock regulations which includes the following: No person or body shall: a) construct, build, maintain or possess a semi-waterfront dock without written approval of the district; b) obstruct or otherwise interfere with the quiet enjoyment of a semi-waterfront dock for which written approval has been granted by the District; or c) (unreasonably) withhold consent as upland owner or interfere with semi-waterfront owner’s application for Specific Permission for Private Moorage of Dock License from the Province of British Columbia.

“B.C. dock owners are not seeking ownership or control of any portion of the rail trail,” said House. “It’s a non-sensical allegation… The trail is for the public good and for the public use. Just as people at some point will be able to walk along the trail, dock owners simply want to be able to walk across the trail.”

Some councillors expressed dissatisfaction with the way the district has been treated.

“I think we’ve been mistreated on this whole rail trail thing from the beginning and I think we should adopt the bylaw for sure,” said Coun. Gord Bushell.

“I’m on the rail trail committee and we don’t get listened to,” said Coun. Jeff Mallmes. “We offered mediation, we talked about the District of Sicamous having control of the rail trail, not ownership, we talked about ownership… It just falls on deaf ears.”

We’ve got to find a resolution in which we’re starting to work together together and collaborate,” said Mayor Terry Rysz. “Maybe this will be the catalyst that will maybe solve that. “We have had conversation in regards of the bylaw and whether it has any merit or not, but now that we’ve listened to Andrew, we’ll see where this goes.”

The full presentation and council’s response can be viewed on the District of Sicamous’ Youtube channel.
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Lachlan Labere

About the Author: Lachlan Labere

Editor, Salmon Arm Observer
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