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Formal complaint wasn’t necessary: property owner

A property owner in Lake Cowichan whose backyard development encroached on a riparian area

A property owner in Lake Cowichan whose backyard development encroached on a riparian area wants to set the record straight and make it clear he had no intention of harming wildlife, whether on his land or anywhere downstream.

Brad Hillis, whose property on upper Neva Road was the subject of a complaint in August, said he was shocked to find out about it and he resents any implication he would knowingly harm the watercourse in question.

“I was involved in streams and stuff when I was a kid, and to have somebody tell me [I’m] this bad person, really rubbed me the wrong way,”  he said.

Bob Crandall, a qualified environmental professional and member of the Cowichan Lake Salmonid Enhancement Society, raised the alarm with conservation officers at the regional and provincial levels when he noticed dirt and gravel on a section of Beadnell Creek near The Slopes residential development.

Hillis explained he was in the process of improving this area at the rear of his property, where he’s lived for close to 15 years. As part of those improvements, he cleaned up.

Hillis unearthed and removed large quantities of old fencing and scrap metal and even discarded car batteries.

“This is what I don’t understand about people coming and giving me s--- about something when I’ve made it better. It just blows me away,” Hillis said, also saying he has no specific plans for that space, but had access to free soil and fill, so chose to add it and level out that section of land for future use.

He said he would not characterize that part of Beadnell as a creek at all, that it’s more like a ditch, and he disputed the claim made by Crandall that water during the rainy months would move west from Neva Road, up an incline towards the affected area. However, Hillis said he has every intention of following the instructions provided by government officials who have subsequently investigated the situation and made recommendations.

“I’ve gone through the province, we have a mandate in place, we have exactly what they want me to do. I’m going to do it to a tee. I’m going to do it better than they want it done,” he said.

Hillis said the government wildlife official who visited his property explained that the soil and fill were too close to the creek.

“We’ve made some decisions. We understand there’s no harm, no foul here. There are some things that the riparian fellow said, OK we need to move this back… He said he’d like to see some trees planted here, and I said, ‘I’m totally game with that, I’m not trying to kill anything here.’”

In addition to moving back some of the earthen material, including that which ended up around some trees, he will also break open bales of hay and rake it over that area as a measure to prevent sediment being washed back towards the creek.

Greig Bethel, a public affairs officer with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, confirmed that staff had visited with Hillis.

“Ministry staff visited the site and have directed [the] property owner to work with local government on permitting, mitigation and restoration,” Bethel said in an email. “It would be inappropriate for the ministry to comment further as investigation [is] ongoing.”

For his part, Crandall said he stands by his complaint.

“You cannot deny that a natural water course with elevation contours created by nature was inundated with gravel and the adjacent riparian vegetation was ignored, destroyed or is currently inundated with several feet of gravel,” he said. Crandall insisted it is indeed a creek, describing the subterranean waterways he says feed into it during the rainy months.

“Ignorance of the law is no excuse whatsoever,” he said.

As for Hillis, he said the government officials have been extremely helpful and informative, and he believes that controversy over this issue could have avoided with a simple phone call or a knock at the door.

He said finding out a complaint had been filed against him was disheartening.

“We don’t live in Vancouver or Surrey, we’re supposed to be a little more subtle and a little more in touch with each other,” Hillis said. “That’s why we live in small communities. We’re not supposed to go behind each other’s backs.”