Residents of Perry Creek, a rural acreage area about half way between Kimberley and Cranbrook, are feeling as if they are not being heard after repeated complaints to the Ministry of Forests, the Regional District of East Kootenay and more.
The issue is Crown land squatting and pollution.
The residents feel that speaking publicly about the problem is now their only recourse.
Kathleen Milhousen is one resident and she describes the situation with one squatter who has been camping on Crown land for over a year.
“This person has been allowed to live on Crown land for over a year,” she said in an email. “The property owners have made numerous complaints, but they have fallen on deaf ears. An RCMP constable finally went down to the camp to take a look. As a result nine dogs and two cats were seized by the SPCA. The [Conservation Officer] and Natural Resource officer then gave a three-day eviction notice. That was over four weeks ago and nothing has been done.
“I have contacted the MLA and the MP for this area,” Millousen continued. “I have sent pictures of the garbage and filth that is allowed to build up next to our watershed. The property owners are at the end of their rope trying to figure out whose job it is to clean this mess up.
Another resident, Cathy Sywulsky, says it’s not just one camp that’s a problem. She says over the past few years, there have been numerous temporary camps set up in the area, with garbage being dumped everywhere.
“Old trailers have been dragged out to Perry Creek for a party spot, a couple have been set on fire, garbage, needles, abandoned, as well as many vehicles that have either been stripped of tires, engines, whatever parts have value and left or set fire to,” she said.
“Three trailers were left at the Perry Creek Old Town road last fall, over the winter, and left in the summer.
“The squatters have moved into various forestry spots, again dumping garbage, holding camping spots that are Crown land for all to enjoy, defecating wherever,” Sywulsky said. “Campers coming to Perry Creek are afraid to leave their belongings to go for a hike, etc., because of the frequency of theft here.”
Complaints to the RAPP line have gone nowhere, Sywulsky says, aside from receiving unsigned responses saying the matter will be looked into.
“The complaints are genuine violations and should be addressed,” she said. “The Ministry can allocate funds to clean up Perry Creek and decommission the illegal roads to make access more difficult. This really bad behaviour will continue as long as they get away with it.”
The Bulletin reached out to the Ministry of Forests and was told that the Land Act allows people to camp on Crown land in one location for up to 14 days. However, the Ministry statement also said that homelessness is a significant issue affecting people and communities throughout the province and addressing it is a critical priority.
It is the role of Natural Resource officers to enforce the Land Act, and Conservation Officers to enforce the Environment Management Act (littering).
“The Ministry of Forests Compliance & Enforcement Branch enforces the Land Act on a priority basis and as supported by partner agencies (Ministry of Housing, Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, and municipal governments) that can assist in providing solutions to the issue of homeless camps on Crown land, such as outreach and appropriate supports,” the statement said.
The process takes time to ensure fair treatment which includes education, a trespass notice, and finally a seizure notice when all else fails, the Ministry says. However, seizure cannot take place unless all the societal safeguards are in place such as having a place for the affected people to be moved to.
“Natural Resource Officers (NROs) have conducted an inspection of the occupation of Crown land near Perry Creek. Conservation Officers have also been on site.”
However, when the Bulletin followed up with a question as to what the result of that site inspection was, we were told that the Ministry cannot comment on where the process is at this time.
“Staff from the Community Integration Services team with Social Development & Poverty Reduction have reached out to and are working with this individual to find a positive solution,” they said.
As for clean up on the more temporary camps, the Ministry said clean up on Crown land falls to regional districts and local municipalities, although it is often assisted by partner agencies within the provincial government.
Following up with the RDEK, we were told that the responsibility for dealing with unauthorized use of Crown land, including the clean up of illegal dumping, is the responsibility of the Ministry of Forests under the Land Act.
“Crown land is provincial and the RDEK has no jurisdiction or authority to clean up illegal dumping on Crown land,” said an RDEK spokesperson. “The only place that the RDEK has jurisdiction to clean up illegal dumping is on RDEK-owned property – such as our rural transfer stations.
“To support the Provincial agencies, service groups and organizations who clean up illegal dumping on Crown land, we do waive tipping fees for the disposal of these wastes at our facilities. Requests to waive fees for these types of clean ups can be made to our Environmental Services Department.”