Archeological assessment burdens property owner

Archeological assessment burdens property owner

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An Okanagan Falls property owner has to dish out at least $58,000 for an archeological assessment or the province won’t allow him to subdivide his lot.

In 1942, Clive McCall’s family purchased a 35.74 acre parcel of land, which he’s now trying to subdivide into three smaller properties. But before he can make any changes to his land, McCall is responsible for solving an expensive underlying mystery.

The province’s Heritage Conservation Act requires landowners to finance a heritage inspection if their property has been ordered to do so and is in the process of subdividing, as is the case on the McCall family property on Highway 97.

Even though his family has owned the property long before the Heritage Conservation Act was passed in 1996, and also before it was quietly labelled worthy of a heritage investigation in 1974, McCall is responsible for fully financing an expensive archeological project. If he chooses not to pay to dig up his property, the restrictions he faces as a property owner will indefinitely remain in effect.

Greig Bethel, public affairs officer with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, explained how the type of assessment required on the McCall property “is typically made when land to be developed is known to contain archeological resources subject to the Heritage Conservation Act, or exhibits sufficient potential to warrant an assessment.”

While the Act does allow for compensation for loss of land use, the burden of proof of loss is on the landowner. Even if the property owner successfully proves their case, appraisal costs and legal fees make it nearly impossible to recoup all monies lost.

In the event that McCall spends the $58,000 and something archeologically significant is discovered on his property, there will be “absolutely zero” benefit to him, said his real estate agent Brian Wensley with Royal LePage. If something worth further exploration is discovered on the property, more money will need to be spent on a more thorough investigation. McCall will be reimbursed for the costs, but not until after he proves in court that he deserves to be compensated.

“It’s the highest level of lack of democratic process that I can think of,” said Wensley. “Stakeholders who have interest should be paying for it.”

Bethel said the Heritage Conservation Act’s “developer pays” policy is similar to policies in other provinces.

He defended the policy by saying how allowing development wantonly could cause irreparable damage to invaluable historical assets.

“Archaeological sites represent a rare, non-renewable opportunity to learn about the human history of B.C., going back 10,000-12,000 years,” he said. “These sites are particularly susceptible to destruction from ground-altering activities, which increase as the province experiences growth and development. Archaeological sites have remained intact for hundreds (in some cases, thousands) of years and could continue in this condition unless disturbed by development.”

Because each of the three parcels McCall hopes to split require a minimum of 10 acres to stand alone, it would only take seven inconveniently situated acres of “archeologically important” land to kibosh his plans.

Wensley believes the costs should be shouldered by First Nations bands and the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, which oversees the Act.

“(Those groups) should clearly be the ones who pay for all costs required to assess a property and all costs related to evaluating loss of property values to the owner,” he said. “For the landowner to be responsible for these costs seems to me like an illogical and invasive erosion of property rights and also undemocratic.”

By Dan Walton

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