Residents living on about 50 unauthorized floating homes on one of Vancouver Island's most iconic lakes could find themselves evicted as the provincial government and a First Nation conduct a court-ordered negotiation that could result in the creation of a new resort.
The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations and the Hupacasath First Nation are engaged in a confidential mediation process after the Supreme Court of British Columbia ordered the talks in 2008.Great Central Lake
The talks focus on Great Central Lake and the lands surrounding the lake, which is the gateway to Canada's tallest waterfall, Della Falls, and is located west of the central Vancouver Island city of Port Alberni.
The Supreme Court found the provincial government failed to consult the Hupacasath First Nation before removing about 70,000 hectares of privately owned land from an area tree farm licence in the area. Much of the land is part of the Hupacasath's traditional territory and includes spiritually significant sites.
Myles Mana, a ministry director, said he couldn't talk about the negotiations but noted several options are on the table, including the creation of a resort on the lake.
Some of the float homes on Great Central Lake have been there since the 1920s. For the residents, Mana said the talks could mean no change to their lives, or it might mean eviction.
"All those sort of options are being looked at and are being talked about."
Mana said the float homes are all occupying Crown land and don't hold tenures, but he said evicting the residents is unlikely.
Steve Tatoosh, chief councillor of the Hupacasath First Nation, said he can't say anything about the negotiations or whether a resort is involved.
But he added: "There's a lot of illegal float homes out there. The rest of the Alberni Valley pays taxes. These guys just live for free out there with no sort of guidelines or rules."
Tatoosh said the mediation process is expected to wrap up in September.
Residents in the dark
Glenn Wong chairs the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District, and is not happy with the confidential mediation process.
Wong said his board is concerned with issues like safe drinking water and pollution and is responsible for planning the lands around the lake.
"We're left out in the dark there and that's a concern."
He said the regional district is not opposed to all the float homes, just the illegal ones.
Danielle Marley, whose resort, Great Central Lake RV Resort & Marina, receives lease payments from about 15 authorized and zoned float homes, said she didn't even know the mediation process was going on until she was contacted by a reporter on Friday morning.
"As for what's going on now, we have not been told anything," she said.
In fact, Marley said she doesn't know whether or not she has any concerns because the talks are so secretive.
Marley said notices have gone up around the lake, informing individuals that they are not to build any new float homes.
"They're going to do what they're going to do," she added, noting she likes the look of the float homes.
"I just personally think it creates a nice feeling on the lake," she said.