Volunteer effort to reconstruct Shuswap fire lookout in limbo as province investigates

Click to play video: 'Province puts volunteer Eagle Pass lookout restoration project on hold' Province puts volunteer Eagle Pass lookout restoration project on hold
Province puts volunteer Eagle Pass lookout restoration project on hold – Oct 9, 2017

High on a mountaintop between Revelstoke and Sicamous, the Eagle Pass fire lookout provides hikers with great views.

Thousands of dollars in donations and hundreds of volunteer hours have gone into rebuilding the lookout.

However, now the future of the grassroots restoration project is uncertain after the province issued a stop-work order and launched an investigation.

Rene St. Onge was part of the restoration effort. He said before the rebuild began, all that was left of the lookout — which is almost 100 years old — was the rock wall.

“In respect to the men in this community that built those fire lookouts…we wanted to bring it back to life because it was just about done,” St. Onge said.

“A couple people asked, ‘Is there going to be a lock on the door?’ No, this is for everybody. This is a destination for hikers from around the world.”

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With the help of an estimated $40,000 worth of donations and hundreds of volunteer hours, around 40 people worked to turn the rock wall into a structure with a roof, windows and a stove.

Work was almost complete when the province stepped in and issued the stop-work order.

“It says no work shall be done on this cabin and if there is any, then the people who do it could be fined by the province,” St. Onge said. “I’m frustrated.”

The order was issued even though St. Onge believed the group had permission for the project from a Front Counter BC staff member.

“When I left, I shook hands with him and he was like, ‘I can give you approval on that one, but if you are doing a new trail or new cabin then we have to go through the application process,’” St. Onge said.

Provincial officials noted they were limited in what they could say while the incident is under investigation.

The ministry responsible said the possible outcomes of the investigation include leaving the structure in place, issuing a penalty or ordering the site to be remediated.

The province could not say how long the investigation would take.

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St. Onge said there had been a complaint from The Shuswap Trail Alliance. That group, which is currently working on its own plans to upgrade trails in the same area, says it simply inquired about the status of the project with a different part of the provincial government.

The alliance is publicly supporting the lookout reconstruction.

“We are keen to see it move forward, and we are keen to see that structure stay there,” said executive director Phil McIntyre-Paul.

McIntyre-Paul sees the review as opportunity to get everyone on the same page about how projects are approved.

“If, in fact, when they approached Front Counter BC and others in the Ministry of Forests they were given misdirection on what should happen, then that’s where we should all be concerned that the processes in place aren’t in sync with each other,” McIntyre-Paul said.

“That’s definitely where this current review is going to be really helpful.”

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