Shawnigan Lake woman runs into paper storm over land-sale concerns

Shawnigan Lake woman runs into paper storm over land-sale concerns

Jonathan FowlieTimes Colonist Sunday, May 29, 2005

Shawnigan Lake resident Mary Desmond knows firsthand the frustrations of trying to get what seems like straight-forward information.

More than a year ago, Desmond heard that Land and Water B.C. was reviewing the possibility of selling provincial Crown land in the area, and that some of the land may be going to the developer of a resort town, something she worried could cause serious problems for the local water supply.

“Many people from around the lake, and also from the creeks that drain into the lake, draw water directly from there,” she said in an interview last week, adding she heard that the land near a creek that feeds into the lake was among the parcels being considered for sale.

Desmond, who is president of the Shawnigan Lake Watershed Watch Association, said she initially tried to get information from Land and Water B.C., but was denied.

As a result, her group resorted to filing a written request under the provincial Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

“We found the attitude of officials handling the matter at Land and Water B.C. was so secretive we felt we had no other recourse,” Desmond recalled.

In her letter, Desmond also asked that the fee for her request be waived, something the act says can happen if the information is in the “public interest” or if the applicant cannot afford the payment.

In response, Desmond said, people handling the request wrote back asking for $810 in fees, an amount she said was way beyond her means. She added the letter she received explained the fee would not be waived because it was not of interest to enough people in the province.

It was a response that had Desmond and her group “absolutely dumfounded” and has caused them to take the matter to B.C.’s commissioner of information and privacy for review.

On Thursday, a spokeswoman for Land and Water B.C. said her department gave the Shawnigan Lake group selected reports about the project — a review that, she said, never involved a developer, and that was intended only to identify suitable parcels of land for sale — including information on the environmental impact.

The group wanted more information, said Gayle Downey, adding its members had asked to see the entire report on the project.

“It was a huge, broad-sweeping request,” she said, explaining the entire report to be “voluminous.”

She added the $810 fee estimate was to photocopy 2,000 pages, and for 13 hours of labour, all amounts that are in accordance with the legislation.

Downey also maintained that the Shawnigan Lake group did not meet the specified criteria for fee waiver, but added that Land and Water B.C. will adhere to whatever decision is made by the commissioner.

Most formal information requests –more than three quarters — are filed by citizen’s such as Desmond, and businesses, federal statistics show.

Media requests account for about 10 per cent and other organizations, such as labour unions, file close to 15 per cent.

&copy Copyright 2005 Times Colonist (Victoria)