Hooterville residents can stay, for a while, says province

  • Nov. 14, 2008 7:00 p.m.

Hooterville residents will not be immediately thrown into the cold on Nov. 15, says the province. Trespass notices were served to 10 households in Queen Charlotte’s west end in mid-October with a requirement to remove all improvements, goods, chattels and other materials within a month’s time, but as of Friday, no movement to vacate had been made by the residents. The Integrated Land Management Bureau will assess the situation on a case-by-case basis next week, says Bob Cunneyworth, a compliance and enforcement specialist with the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands. “We’re being very compassionate with these people,” he said. “I don’t expect these buildings will be gone,” he said of the deadline, but he wanted to clarify that people occupying the cabins in the area are in contravention of the provincial Land Act. “People should be thinking about their next steps,” he said. Failure to comply with the conditions of the trespass notice could result in penalties of up to $1,000 and the requirement to pay the clean up costs for restoring the land, said Mr. Cunneyworth. The province could also decide to prosecute the occupants and upon conviction, the penalties could include a fine of up to $20,000 and a jail term of up to 60 days. Mr. Cunneyworth said while there are other situations with squatters in BC, the situation in Bearskin Bay is unique. “I haven’t come across any where buildings are developed to the point where there is drywall, heat and hydro,” he said of some of the buildings. Others he described as living in squalor with no heat, power or water. The situation is further complicated by the fact that some occupiers have transferred, sublet or are renting out their improvements. Some had licenses of occupation (since 2006 the province has not renewed them), some were offered licences of occupation and then never paid for them, some have never had any authority to use the crown land, said Mr. Cunneyworth. “Not every person is in the same situation – there are businesses, residents, people on welfare and people working,” he said. At this point the province is not considering offering any more licenses of occupation opportunities to residents of Hooterville. “The goal is to restore the area to its natural state,” he said. “If, and that’s a big if, applications were being accepted comments would have to be received by the city of Queen Charlotte and First Nations,” he said. When asked if the province’s position would change if a pro-Hooterville council was elected tomorrow, Mr. Cunneyworth said: “If they were to support this type of settlement, we would move forward from that point. If First Nations supported the settlement, the province would look at ways to resolve the issue.” He said the province pursuing the eviction of residents from the area because of the liability involved with people using Crown Land without authorization. “It’s an interesting situation and we’re just trying to resolve it,” he said. Residents had the opportunity to object to the trespass notice by providing written reasons for their dispute. Mr. Cunneyworth said his office, which is based in Surrey, received one phone call and one letter, as of 4 pm on Friday. He also hasn’t received any applications to legitimize the unauthorized use of crown land, especially from the businesses operating in the area. “If we were to allow anyone to do anything they wanted on Crown Land, we would have chaos,” he said.

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