Concerned residents and recreational users of Lois Lake are organizing a response to what they consider unfair treatment by the provincial government.
On Thursday, January 14, Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations blocked access to a longstanding, unsanctioned boat launch located on Crown land. A statement from the ministry confirmed the decision to restrict public access was made to address continuing concerns with environmental degradation to the lakeside and the buildup of garbage and derelict vehicles.
More than a dozen concerned citizens packed into Powell River Regional District's monthly planning committee meeting on Tuesday, January 19, to request the regional district's assistance in the matter.
At the meeting, the committee passed a motion to have Electoral Area C director Colin Palmer meet with the group to organize a meeting with ministry officials.
"If I help you get in front of the people who made this unilateral decision, maybe we can determine what they really want," said Palmer.
The regional district director has contacted Powell River Regional Cabin Owners Association (PRRCOA) and is inviting anyone with concerns about access to the lake to join the informal group.
Palmer suggested the closure might be a way for the province to push for a more formal user agreement for the area in question.
"It might end up with a lease or an agreement or something that allows people to get access to the cabins," said Palmer.
Mark Murray, a PRRCOA director who was at the meeting, described the closure as "blindsiding." PRRCOA represents about 250 cabin owners on Powell Lake, Lois Lake and Dodd lake. He said in addition to participating with Palmer, PRRCOA will also be sending forestry minister Steve Thompson a letter to express its concerns.
"It's imperative that it be resolved," said Murray.
Murray said PRRCOA has cooperated with the ministry to ask cabin owners to help clean up any debris and garbage they were responsible for.
In September, the association was notified the ministry was going to come in and close a portion of the lake's foreshore to public access, but "they were very specific when they mentioned that piece, and it didn't include the boat ramp," said Murray.
"It was done without any consultation with the cabin owners themselves," he said.
According to Greig Bethel, public affairs officer for the ministry, natural resource officers met with the cabin owners association on September 3, 2015, and asked that cabin owners have all the garbage cleared up by October 3 to avoid receiving trespass notices for the derelict vessels, garbage and unauthorized float cabins.
"Cabin owners were also advised vehicle access to Lois Lake boat launch area would be restricted," stated Bethel.
Each cabin owner pays the province $500 annually for a foreshore lease, in addition to other property taxes. The boat launch is the only access for the majority of owners.
"The lake is used by hundreds, if not thousands, of people each year. The cabin owners are only a small group," said Don Bowes, one of 22 cabin owners on Lois Lake. "Right now, we're in limbo. It's the only viable access to the lake."
Bowes said the majority of people who use the lake are "environmentally conscious" and everyone is being punished for the actions of a few people.
The area now closed off to the public includes a location used in summer for bonfires. When the lake level is low, it was also common for vehicles to park on the lakeshore.