British Columbia government attorneys have agreed to pay $300,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a couple whose property was flooded after a third of the surrounding watershed’s forests were cut down.
The agreement was made in a handwritten memo signed by a royal attorney and presented to the court on the day the trial began last month.
Ray Chipeniuk and Sonia Sawchuk filed a lawsuit in 2014 to secure their property in northwestern BC by BC Timber Sales, a provincial government agency that auctioned about 20% of BC’s annual logging allowance. Allegedly negligent in failing to exercise reasonable care to It is not corrupted by logging.
The authorities also committed a civil tort by deforesting the watershed to an “undue extent,” causing flooding and increased water flow, and continuing to affect the enjoyment of plaintiffs’ property south of Smithers. claimed.
The state’s 2015 response to the civil claim denies negligence and denies that the state owes the couple a duty of care.BC Timber Sales assesses watershed conditions and provides advice to hydrologists He said he was engaged in a planning process “typical of forest management” in British Columbia, such as
The couple’s attorney, Ian Lawson, said they had put in an offer to settle for $300,000. The lawyer asked for a temporary stay.
They then handed him a handwritten note agreeing to a $300,000 settlement, subject to final approval.
Lawson described the last-minute decision as “quite dramatic”.
The forest ministry declined to comment, saying the issue had not been formally settled.
The Canadian Press saw a copy of the offer signed by Crown’s attorneys.
Chippeniuk, a former professor of environmental planning at the University of Northern British Columbia, said in an interview that he and his wife spent years searching for the ideal rural property with land as close to natural conditions as possible.
They purchased 65 hectares of land in 2004 and set about expanding their network of forest trails and gardens for retirement enjoyment.
Chipenyuk said the landscape is currently oversaturated, with parts of the site unusable for tractors and long trails out of use for much of the year.
Chipeniuk said he had raised concerns with BC Timber Sales for a year about the potential impact of logging on downstream hydrology.
However, the cleared blocks were auctioned and 30% of the basin was cleared in 2009.
The facility was first flooded in 2012 and flooded again in 2018.
The initial flood caused landslides on the property, flooding the couple’s driveway and contaminated well water with E. coli, the lawsuit says.
In all, the floods killed more than 160 trees and reduced property values by an estimated $236,000, according to plaintiffs.
Chipeniuk said that in addition to the physical damage caused by the floods, he and his wife were feeling what some psychologists call “ecological grief.”
He said he felt depressed almost every day due to the changes in the landscape caused by deforestation and flooding.
Based on conversations with previous owners, Chipenyuk said the facility never had a problem with oversaturation or flooding in the 30 years before logging.
After filing a lawsuit, the couple hired Younes Alila, an expert in forest hydrology and professor in the Department of Forest and Resource Management at the University of British Columbia, to provide evidence on the cause of the floods.
Alila described the evidence that logging was the culprit as a “slam dunk”.
He produced a 70-page report outlining his conclusions that snow and snowmelt were important factors, and that clearcutting had “supercharged” watershed flows.
The fairly flat 3 sq km watershed lies in the ‘rain shadow’ of BC’s Coastal Mountains, resulting in a drier environment. More than half of the average annual rainfall of 500mm comes in the form of snow, Alila said.
“Flat terrain in a snowy environment is very sensitive to flooding,” he said. Snow in lower elevations melts at once and faster than in higher elevations with cooler temperatures.
Alila said in an interview that logging has changed the composition of forests and cut half of the conifers, which is another factor affecting snowmelt.
Conifers that stay green in winter help collect snow before it reaches the ground and carry some of its moisture back into the atmosphere through a process called sublimation. slows down .
“Removing (coniferous) trees eliminates both snow blockage and snowpack shadows. More snow accumulates on cut blocks, and more energy is available for thaw.”
Before logging, two-thirds of the basin was covered with conifers, Alila said, and the rest was deciduous, losing its leaves in winter.
About a third of the watershed is now cleared, one third is covered with deciduous trees and the remaining third is covered with conifers, he said.
Alila says the loss of half of the watershed’s conifers has effectively doubled the impact of logging rates to 60% in terms of impacts on snow, snowmelt and hydrology.
“Previously, thawing was not synchronized between deciduous and coniferous trees,” he said.
Synchronization of snowmelt caused by logging amplified the magnitude, duration and frequency of water flows, especially in the spring, he said.
It will take decades for watershed hydrology to recover from deforestation, Alila said, and his analysis of forest hydrology studies in dry, snowy environments suggests that recovery may not occur for the first 20 years after deforestation. They uniformly suggested little or no.
He said that only after 60 to 80 years would a substantial recovery be expected.
Triantha Enterprises Ltd., the logging company that felled the trees, was also named as a defendant in Chipeniuk’s case. The company has agreed to an earlier settlement, the details of which are subject to a confidentiality agreement, Lawson said.
Lawson said the settlement is not as strong as the ruling and may help future litigation, but he hopes to encourage other property owners who may have been through similar situations to consider their options. I hope