Lawyers for the British Columbia government have agreed to pay $300,000 to settle a lawsuit by a couple whose property was flooded after a third of the forest in the surrounding watershed was cleared.
The agreement is contained in a handwritten copy that was signed by Crown’s attorneys and was filed in court on a trial date set to begin last month.
Ray Chipeniuk and Sonia Sawchuk sued in 2014, alleging that BC Timber Sales, the provincial Crown agency responsible for auctioning about 20% of BC’s annual allowable cut, was negligent in failing to reasonable care to ensure their property in northwest BC will not be destroyed by logging.
It also alleges the agency committed nuisance civil torts by opening up the watershed to “unreasonable” levels, causing flooding and increased water flow that will further affect the enjoyment of property. of the plaintiffs, south of Smithers.
The province’s written response to the 2015 civil lawsuit denies negligence and denies that the province owes the couple a duty of care. It said BC Timber Sales was engaged in a planning process “typical for forest operations” in BC, which included assessing conditions upstream and consulting a hydrologist.
The couple’s attorney, Ian Lawson, said he made a settlement offer for $300,000. He said he was at BC Supreme Court in Smithers last month, waiting for the trial to begin, when Crown lawyers asked for a pause.
They then gave him written consent to a settlement of $300,000, subject to final approval, “province attorneys committed to expeditiously pursue.”
Lawson described the last-minute decision as “quite dramatic.”
The Forestry Department declined to comment, saying the matter has not yet been officially finalized.
The Canadian press saw a copy of the offer signed by Crown attorneys.
Flooded once in 2012, again in 2018
Chipeniuk, a retired professor of environmental planning at the University of North BC, said in an interview that he and his wife spent many years searching for an ideal rural property with land as close as possible. with its natural state as possible.
They purchased the 65-hectare property in 2004 and have had to work to expand the network of forest trails and gardens to enjoy in retirement.
Chipeniuk said the landscape is now too saturated, he can’t use his tractor in parts of the property, and the long trails are unusable for most of the year.
Chipeniuk said for a year he raised concerns with BC Timber Sales about the possibility that logging could affect the hydrology downstream.
However, the cut forest was auctioned off and 30% of the watershed was cleared in 2009.
It flooded for the first time in 2012, then again in 2018.
The first flood caused landslides on the property, submerging the couple’s driveway and leading to their well water being contaminated with E.coli bacteria, the lawsuit states.
According to the plaintiffs, the flooding caused aggregate damage to more than 160 trees, and reduced property values by an estimated $236,000.
Chipeniuk says that in addition to the physical damage caused by the flooding, it also made him and his wife feel what some psychologists call “ecological grief.”
Nearly every day, he said, they feel a little bit of depression stemming from the changes logging and flooding has caused to the landscape.
Chipeniuk said that based on conversations with previous owners, the property had never had a saturation or flood problem in the 30 years prior to its opening.
Logging with ‘supercharged’ water flow
After filing the lawsuit, the couple hired Younes Alila, an expert in forest hydrology and a professor in the department of forest resource management at the University of British Columbia, to provide evidence of what led to the flooding.
Alila described evidence that logging is the culprit as a “slam dunk.”
He prepared a 70-page report stating his conclusion that mining has “supercharged” flows in the basin, with snow and snowmelt being the main factors.
It took decades for the forest basin’s hydrology to recover, Alila said, noting that his analysis of forest hydrology studies in arid, snowy environments showed little or no recovery. during the first 20 years after extraction.
It is expected to only make a significant recovery after 60 to 80 years, he said.
The logging company that cut the trees, Triantha Enterprises Ltd., is also named as a defendant in Chipeniuk’s lawsuit. The company agreed to a prior agreement, the details of which are subject to a confidentiality agreement, Lawson said.
A settlement, Lawson said, is not as powerful as a judgment, which can inform future cases, but he hopes it will encourage other property owners who may have experienced such cases. Similar cases explore their options.