New evidence accepted in court battle over public access to Nicola Valley lakes

By on September 8, 2017
The locked gate across Stoney Lake road, one of the locations examined during Tuesday’s tour of ranch lands. This process was one of the last court proceedings for the Supreme Court trial. Michael Potestio/Herald

New evidence from the Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club has been introduced in the civil trial between the club and the Douglas Lake Cattle Company over public access to two area lakes.

Supreme Court Justice Joel Groves allowed the fish and game club to reopen the trial Friday (Sept. 8) after their lawyer Chris Harvey said members discovered two watercourses that flowed into Stoney Lake, one of two lakes at dispute in the trial.

Eight pictures were accepted into evidence and club member Ed Hendricks was permitted to testify, Harvey told the Herald.

Harvey said these photos show there are streams flowing into Stoney Lake that weren’t disclosed by ranch manager Joe Gardner during a site tour of the lands in question held May 23.

“Douglas Lake’s contention was this was basically a man-made lake, not a natural lake, and so the fact that there are two streams going in [the lake] that they weren’t disclosing to the court is quite significant,” said Harvey, adding that he believes the evidence proves the lake is a natural occurring body of water.

The Douglas Lake Cattle Company is suing the fish and game club for damages resulting from club members trespassing on ranch property to access Stoney Lake and Minnie Lake. Through a counter-claim, the club is suing the ranch for what it says is blocked access to a public road and the two lakes. Such an order would also declare that the fish and fishery they access are public as well.

The road and the two lakes it leads to is fenced and gated with only paying guests of there Douglas Lake Ranch being allowed access.

In-court proceedings wrapped in January, but a ruling was delayed to allow Justice Groves to tour the lands after the snow had melted.

Lawyer for the cattle company, Evan Cooke, told the Herald via email that the court received a bit more detail about topographical and hydrological conditions east of Stoney Lake from this evidence, but it is not anything new.

“It is rare for our courts to allow a party to introduce evidence after a trial has been completed, but in this case the judge felt that he would benefit from hearing additional evidence regarding the movement of water in the area east of Stoney Lake,” said Cooke. “The evidence adduced on September 8th related to ponds and streams east of Stoney Lake, which form part of the catchment area that will feed water into Stoney Lake under appropriate climatic conditions. These ponds and streams appear on various maps and plans already admitted as evidence in the trial.”

Hendricks was among the lawyers, judge, reporters and club members allowed access for the site tour on May 23.

“I recall Mr. Gardner (Douglas Lake ranch manager Joe Gardner) taking us to a dry draw,” Hendricks said of what the ranch said of the trickle that ran into Stoney Lake.

“There wasn’t even enough water to wash the moss off the rocks.”

Hendricks said he and another member, skeptical of the representation, wandered and found another creek.

They were allowed back on the ranch two days later and found the creek did not flow to Stoney Lake. During their second foray, however, Hendricks said they found three other small water bodies at the east end of Stoney Lake that fed the larger lake.

The water flows are important because the ranch claims the lakes were little more than ponds made larger and developed as trophy lakes with private money and effort. The club, however, has asserted they are natural lakes first mapped out in the 19th century.

The ranch, through manager Joe Gardner, claims it has created a world-class fishery on Minnie and Stoney lakes through engineering and raising of what were barren waters in the 2000s.

“Douglas Lake was portraying that Stoney Lake was a dry pond, and they created it. But we knew there were two natural watercourses going into it,” said McGowan.

Lawyers will make final written submissions to be submitted by Oct. 6.

Groves has not said when he will render his decision.

—This story was updated on Sept. 12 to include a statement from defence lawyer Evan Cooke and files from Kamloops This Week

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