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Ministry ‘fumbled the ball’ on Station House: Hope mayor

Hope cannot take ownership of project as highway ministry did not consult with First Nations

The District of Hope will not take possession of the Station House any time soon, as the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure have failed to undertake consultation with First Nations.

The failure to consult effectively stopped the transfer of the property on which Station House sits from the ministry to the district. Mayor Wilfried Vicktor said the district would insist on a resolution to the issue and reimbursement of the money they’ve spent on the project, as well as reserving the right to launch civil action if an agreement with the province cannot be reached.

“I’m certainly not trying to villainize the Ministry of Transportation and Highways, obviously they did fumble the ball. Hopefully, they will do what is right here soon,” he said at a council meeting Monday evening.

In 2015 an amenity contribution agreement was signed between the district and the BC Transportation and Financing Authority (BCTFA), requiring the BCTFA to transfer ownership of the property to the district if they met certain conditions. The transportation ministry owns the land at 111 Old Hope Princeton Way, while the Station House building is owned by the district.

In late 2017, the ministry told the district they would not be able to undertake the transfer, the reason being a lack of First Nations consultation.

“We were informed by the Ministry of Transportation that they did not undertake aboriginal consultation before they signed the amenity agreement…that we as a district signed,” said Vicktor. “It must have been an oversight, there must have been too many people involved on their side.”

The Sto:lo Nation Chiefs Council and the Chawathil First Nation could not be reached for comment as of press time.

Steven Patterson, who oversees consultations, natural resources and economic development at the Yale First Nation, said the town of Hope is generally regarded as the ancestral lands of the Chawathil First Nation. Many other First Nations were also present in the area, some who came to fish seasonally.

In this case, as the land is developed, the consultation would likely take the form of a letter sent as a courtesy to let the First Nations know and to double check that the transfer would not impact their rights and title. Around 20 First Nations would need to be consulted, Patterson said.

“What they would probably do is trigger an archaeological assessment and the First Nation might say ‘well, we want to make sure there is nothing that’s going to get impacted’. But because the site is already developed, it generally is more of a double check,” he said.

As the property is already developed, Patterson added that an archaeological site here would have likely already been disturbed.

“Urban areas were often developed before a time when Aboriginal rights and title were really recognized and even still they’re only just beginning to be recognized properly,” he said. “(The province) should have really consulted before these areas were developed.”

The district, in a public statement, wrote they have fulfilled all the conditions of the agreement with BCTFA and that First Nations consultation was neither a condition of the agreement nor was it referred to by the BCTFA.

Statement by the District of Hope on the Station House Development by Ingrid Peacock on Scribd

The information was kept under wraps until Monday evening, as it is a legal issue between the province and the district. Vicktor said it needed to be shared now, to keep the public informed.

“In the last four months, this has been kept in camera because it is very much a legal issue, but it’s to a point where we’re not at a final resolve with the ministry at this point but we have to clearly articulate to the public what is going on here,” he said.

Vicktor said the district has informed Fraser-Nicola MLA Jackie Tegart and Premier John Horgan’s office, the latter more than once.

“For the record, we requested a meeting with the premier to essentially tell him that this is going to get very awkward for the provincial government, given the fact that they’ve breached a legally binding contract,” Vicktor said.

The office of the premier did not take the district up on the offer, according to Vicktor they wanted the district to seek resolution through the transportation ministry.

The district will “insist” that there is a fair resolution, including the reimbursement of any money spent on the project this far.

The mayor was not able to give a dollar amount, but the district has spent money on architectural drawings and cost consultations. He added the ministry has indicated they are interested in reimbursing direct expenses.

“The building is assessed at $98,400 and the land at $1,075,000,” Hope’s chief administrative officer John Fortoloczky stated in an email. He added the exact amount spent on the project is being finalized and will become public once the parties have agreed to it in a negotiated settlement.

In their public statement, the district said they reserve the right to launch civil action. Whether this matter will end up in court is uncertain, Vicktor said.

“I guess our secret weapon here is that we have a very good paper trail involving the grievance we’ve had with the ministry,” he said. “I don’t think they’re particularly excited about seeing this go to court so we’ll see where this plays out.”

The mayor was adamant that this not affect relations between First Nations and the district.

“This is not a District of Hope versus neighbouring First Nations issue. There is a consultation process enshrined in legislation, which very clearly the Ministry of Transportation and Highways did not adhere to, so it’s very important that we maintain the respectful relations we have with our First Nations brothers and sisters,” he said.

The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure did not respond to requests for comment as of press time.