This photo shows a wetland area near Cokato Road and Montane Parkway. Photo Submitted

City of Fernie starts legal prosecution against Montane Developments Ltd.

The city has stated that the development company failed to obtain required work permits

The City of Fernie has initiated legal proceedings against Montane Developments Ltd., claiming it failed to obtain necessary permits before commencing work on land near Cokato Road and Montane Parkway.

The city announced their intent to commence prosecution in provincial court on April 23 and a court date has been set for July 23, 2020. According to a statement from the City of Fernie, the development company failed to obtain the Watercourse Protection Development Permit and the Hazard Lands Development Permit required before beginning work on the land.

In a city council meeting on April 14, City of Fernie chief administrative officer, Michael Boronowski presented a request for decision document to the members of council, as well as mayor Ange Qualizza. In the document, Boronowski stated that “over the past long weekend staff and council received multiple complaints regarding significant work undertaken on a property abutting Brewery Creek along the gravel portion on Montane Parkway, addressed as 20 Cokato Road.”

Public discussion over the development of the land became evident on Facebook around Easter weekend as many concerned citizens voiced their worries about the affect of the work on the environment in the area. Some citizens claimed a beaver dam was destroyed while others questioned the effect on the creek as photos surfaced of work being done on the land.

The work that has led to this supposed disturbance of various natural habitats is taking place in a spot that was identified in the City of Fernie’s floodplain mapping of the Coal Creek area. A project mapping floodplains was conducted by Northwest Hydraulic Consultants Ltd. in 2014. The report was then reissued on February 25, 2016 and noted several key findings.

According to the report, which mapped out areas that would pose flood risks, 20 Cokato Road is in a Zone A hazard zone. The report noted that land categorized as Zone A may experience moderate to high velocities and depths from over bank flooding. Due to the high flood risk of these areas, the report recommends that no development permits or building permits for the construction of structures be permitted within the zone. The report further noted that “the setback of any development also helps maintain the diversity of the existing channel and riparian habitat.”

The document Boronowski presented at the April 14 council meeting was one step in communicating the city’s stance on this issue publicly. In the document, Boronowski provided some context and background information on the development in question.

“Earlier this year staff provided a Watercourse Protection Development Permit (WPDP-31) for specific work on this property based on engineered designs for stormwater management,” Boronowski wrote. “The Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resources and Rural Development also authorized specific works on the property based on these designs.”

The document goes on to outline what went wrong.

“Staff attended the property to inspect works and found that while work related to WPDP-31 was underway, there also appears to be other work underway. This work has included the disturbance of lands, tree clearing and earthworks.”

The WPDP-31 permit was issued on March 27, 2020 by the city’s manager of planning, Patrick Sorfleet. The permit was issued to construct storm works at 20 Cokato Road, subject to a set of conditions and requirements. One of these conditions was that the work be in compliance with a letter sent from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resources and Rural Development to Parastone Developments Ltd. Parastone is the parent company of Montane Developments Ltd.

The letter from the ministry was sent on March 12, 2020 and laid out further requirements for the development of the land in question, specifically for stormwater outfall maintenance of Brewery Creek. The letter required, among other things, that all works be in compliance with various environmental protection acts.

This included the Water Sustainability Act, which ensures “a sustainable supply of fresh, clean water that meets the needs of B.C. residents today and in the future,” according to the government of British Columbia. The act is the principal law for managing the diversion of water resources. The letter also noted that habitat management is an important part of the deal and that it is the responsibility of Parastone Developments Ltd. to “ensure that the project is in compliance with all legislation, including the Fisheries Act, as well as with any applicable federal, provincial or local government bylaws, regulations or enactments.”

Since these letters and permits for specific works at 20 Cokato Road were issued, the City of Fernie has stated that development has taken place outside of the scope of the permits.

Although Parastone has not yet responded to The Free Press’ request for comments after the news of the legal proceedings came out, they did submit a letter to the public that was published in The Free Press on April 23.

In the letter, Simon Howse, the general manager of the Parastone team of companies, said he wished to provide an update on the Montane development.

“Parastone acknowledges the heightened public interest over the wetland habitat and beaver dam that is near the project site,” he wrote. “Since Parastone started development on the Montane property in 2014, preserving and enhancing this natural area has remained a key priority of the overall project scope.”

Howse went on to state that after careful review with their project professionals, the company determined that “the proposed construction to redistribute the wetland would infringe upon the initially proposed project scope.”

In order to mitigate any further disturbances to the area, the development company said they are working with an engineering team to make sure all of the work completed is within the scope of the approved permits. As part of their response to this situation, Parastone noted that they are currently developing a revised public engagement process so they can maintain transparency around the development in the future.

Once completed, the land in question will become an educational wetland that maintains the current habitat as much as possible, according to Howse in the letter. There will be a boardwalk with educational story boards to be used as a teaching tool and for public enjoyment.

“Parastone understands and shares the passion of Fernie residents to maintain the natural beauty that draws so many to the area, including enhancement of the existing ecosystem and native wetland species,” Howse wrote.

Although the City of Fernie is providing no further comment on the legal proceedings against Montane Developments Ltd. at this time, The Free Press will be following the story closely as it develops.

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