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City of Powell River to seek new legal opinion on ownership of trees on Lot A

Resident prompts council to make declaration regarding ownership
Powell River mayor Dave Formosa
BRANCHING OUT: Powell River mayor Dave Formosa has recommended that the city’s lawyers look at information regarding ownership of trees on city lands known as Lot A. Paul Galinski photo

City of Powell River will be sending a package of information to its lawyers regarding ownership of trees on what has been referred to as Lot A.

At the Tuesday, October 1, committee of the whole meeting, councillors reviewed correspondence from resident George Orchiston, who provided more information on the city-owned 132-acre property between Brooks Secondary School and the city waste transfer site, known as Lot A.

In his correspondence, Orchiston drew attention to a letter he wrote on August 19, 2019, where he stated: “…it is long past the time for the city to represent the interests of its residents and publicly declare its ownership of the timber on Lot A. I request the city promptly do so. Should the city be unwilling to make such a declaration, I request that it provide its supportive reasons to the public.”

Orchiston stated in his letter that after MacMillan Bloedel and Weyerhaeuser harvested and removed timber from this land in 1999 and 2000, any timber not harvested at that time belongs to the landowner, which is now the City of Powell River.

Orchiston stated that a search at the BC Land Title office establishes there is no charge, such as an assignment of timber harvesting rights, registered against Lot A.

“I respectfully insist that the city advise the public that it is the fee simple owner of the land known as Lot A and all the timber upon it,” stated Orchiston.

At the September 3 committee of the whole meeting, chief administrative officer Russell Brewer said the city was aware of the licences when it acquired Lot A and there was some public discussion whether the logging rights under the licences were still in effect. Brewer added that the city has received legal advice that indicates the licences were validly executed, that Island Timberlands is the legal assignee of the rights granted under the licences, and the city is legally bound by the obligations of the licensor under the licences.

“The legal advice provided to the city also indicates that unless a harvesting plan can be found that determines the rights of the licensee under the licences, the timber harvesting rights conferred by the licences have not been extinguished and remain subject to a mutually acceptable harvesting plan to be agreed to by the licensor and the licensee,” said Brewer. “On the basis of legal advice, the city is proceeding cautiously on this question and council will be considering a full range of options. The public will be kept informed as the city moves forward on this matter.”

At the Thursday, October 3, council meeting, mayor Dave Formosa said he read the whole package from Orchiston. Formosa said the city’s lawyers have thoroughly gone over the issue Orchiston brings forward. He added that the city has received two legal opinions regarding who owns the trees on this particular parcel of land between Brooks Secondary School and Millennium Park.

“I do have to say that I believe we are in a strong position in negotiating a good contract on behalf of the city when and if this group ever decides to come and claim the trees back,” said Formosa. “Where I have a concern and issue is under contractual law, and I would ask that this package go back to our lawyers again, for a third time. They can have a look at this complete package just in case something was missed.”

Formosa said where he struggles is when this land was purchased, the city was aware and was told these trees were owned by Island Timberlands.

“To the best of all of our research and knowledge, contractually, there are agreements that have been in place that have followed through, so that’s where my concern is,” said Formosa.

“Now if the lawyers come back and say we missed something, then I think we can have another conversation. At the end of the day I say we take the package and send it back to the lawyers.”

Councillor CaroleAnn Leishman said she agrees with the mayor about sending the information to the lawyers. She said she finds it interesting that there seems to be no harvest plan from when trees were harvested from Lot A.

The information from Orchiston has been referred to staff, which has been directed to work with legal counsel on reviewing the information.

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