The Society Has Been Sued
Lawsuit Update January 2018: We had hoped that when the Channel Ridge lands were sold in 2016, that the new owner would abandon the lawsuit against WPS and various agencies. Last December the new owner sent correspondence indicating an interest in proceeding with the lawsuit. But it is encouraging that we haven’t heard from them since then.
In September 2015, the Water Preservation Society was served with a lawsuit demanding, among other things, that the WPS return 272 acres of St. Mary Lake watershed to Channel Ridge Properties. The lawsuit, legally known as a Notice of Civil Claim, was filed by Paradigm Mortgage Investment Corporation (mortgage holder of Channel Ridge Properties) and Channel Ridge Properties Ltd. Also sued were the North Salt Spring Waterworks District (NSSWD), the Islands Trust, and the Province.
The reserve lands came to the Society through a 1986 agreement between the North Salt Spring Waterworks District (NSSWD), the Society, the Islands Trust, and other agencies that allowed increased residential development in Channel Ridge. The lawsuit claims, in part, that because of recent issues regarding the availability of water for new development in Channel Ridge this reserve should be returned to the developer. We think that the plaintiffs’ legal arguments for the return of the reserve lands are weak. However, WPS has to fight the lawsuit, or the community risks losing the land that has so many important values to our community.
Over the years, WPS has worked hard to keep these vital watershed lands in as pristine a condition as possible, which is no easy task given that there is public access to this area. Much of the WPS land is very steep; however, a few areas are relatively level with stunning views of St. Mary Lake and the mainland beyond. The rest of the land might be logged as it has been in the past. If this happens it could be devastating for St. Mary Lake, which has been plagued with blooms of toxin-producing cyanobacteria due to high levels of phosphorus. Land-clearing in the watershed could result in rains carrying more phosphorus into the lake making for more toxic blooms.
Senior lawyers at Woodward and Company in Victoria are handling WPS’s defence. They have been WPS's lawyers since the early 1980s and are familiar with its history. WPS thinks that the plaintiffs’ legal argument for the return of the watershed lands is weak. However, WPS has to defend itself or possibly lose the lands. Legal costs could be $50,000 or more depending on how long the legal wrangling goes on. One reason for the costs being high is that the case was filed in Kelowna, and our lawyers may have to travel there to appear in court.
These costs could easily exhaust WPS’s funds, carefully saved over many years from member donations and special bequests, including from one of our founders Tom Gossett. The WPS Board had planned to save this money to use for caring for this land and, in some cases, for restoring disturbed areas to their natural condition, all to protect St. Mary Lake drinking water.
The WPS Board of Directors is taking this challenge very seriously and will strive to do its utmost to maintain ownership of these lands, which are a precious resource for the entire Salt Spring Island community. In the 33 years since its formation in 1982, WPS has stood up to many who needed to be reminded of the importance of our drinking water sources. An example would be the long and successful battle WPS fought to keep gasoline-powered boats off of our drinking-water lakes.
With your help, WPS intends to fight this battle with the same seriousness of purpose. Our lawyers have submitted an initial response to the claim, which states that we do not believe the conditions for the return of the land to the developer as set out in the covenant have been met. If you would like a copy of the WPS response, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please consider making a donation to our legal fund. Just click on "make a donation" at the top of this website.