British Columbia

Volunteers who rebuilt B.C. alpine cabin face $10K fine and threat of demolition

Province to hold hearing in May into volunteers' unpermitted restoration of Eagle Pass Lookout cabin

March 08, 2018

Volunteer builders at the newly restored Eagle Pass Lookout cabin near Sicamous, B.C. The cabin may be torn down if a Ministry of Forests investigation determines the renovation of the cabin is in contravention of its rules. (Rene St. Onge)

A hearing has been set for May into the efforts of community volunteers who rebuilt a historic B.C. cabin using donated money but who say they are now facing a $10,000 fine and the demolition of the entire structure.

In October, the province launched an investigation into the restoration of the historic Eagle Pass Lookout Cabin near Sicamous, B.C., after volunteers took on the project with verbal support from the ministry of forests manager but no official permits.

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"I can't comprehend it," said volunteer Rene St. Onge. "We don't understand why they are going forward with this."

A drone captured what remained of the original 1922 Eagle Pass Lookout cabin before volunteers set about rebuilding it. (Kickstarter)

Originally constructed in 1922 as a fire lookout, the 15 by 15 foot structure sits on a narrow peak in the Monashee Mountains where it has been a hiking destination for decades.

'It was a mess'

The roof of the cabin collapsed sometime in the 1960s and all that remained was the crumbling rock foundation until three years ago when St. Onge and friends had the idea to rebuild it. 

"It was a mess — broken glass, boards and nails everywhere," he said. 

St. Onge said he approached the Forests Ministry in Vernon to get permission but was referred to a manager in Kamloops who verbally and enthusiastically endorsed the idea.

So, the group started fundraising and building.

Over the next two years, it spent hundreds of hours and $40,000 restoring the cabin. Because the site is only accessible on foot, they had to hire a helicopter to fly in construction materials.

The project was widely covered on social media and an online fundraising campaigns raised thousands of dollars.

Stop work order

But according to St. Onge, trouble began once the restoration was finished. That's when the Ministry of Forests slapped a stop work order on the cabin.

"They could have put a stop to it earlier," he said. "We took two years, and we didn't try and hide that we were fixing it up."

St. Onge believes a complaint by someone connected to the Shuswap Trail Alliance may have led to the stop work order and the subsequent investigation which is being conducted by compliance and enforcement staff with the Ministry of Forests. 

What about the heli pad?

The executive director of the Shuswap Trail Alliance says although his group doesn't want the cabin torn down, clarification is needed around why proper authorization processes weren't followed, and how the cabin will be used in the future, especially considering the roof was constructed to support the landing of a helicopter. 

The restored Eagle Pass Lookout cabin was built with a reinforced roof that can double as a heli pad. (Youtube)

"My understanding in talking with these guys is that they just wanted to build it as a hiking feature. That's what they're on record as saying, and we completely support that," said Phil McIntyre-Paul.

"But if what they're saying is we want to use it as a heli landing pad for heli skiing, that's a whole other question. That's a high level use and that's why there's a process in place to think this through and think about the ecological impact."

St. Onge says the volunteer group was advised to build a reinforced roof because of the massive amounts of snow in the area. The heli pad feature, he says, only enhances hiker safety.

"There was a young man from Revelstoke who hiked up there six years ago and fell and died. Now, it's much safer," he said.

In an email, the Ministry of Forests told CBC News that the next step in determining the fate of the the Eagle Pass Lookout cabin will take place in May when the volunteers, including St. Onge, will have an "opportunity to be heard." 

"Following the hearing, a statutory decision-maker will consider all the evidence and determine whether or not the cabin should be removed or modified and the site remediated; and whether or not a penalty should be imposed," read the statement.

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