Hundreds of homes and recreation properties on the north shore of Cluculz Lake may be sitting on protected archeological sites, while their owners are completely unaware.
The lake, located approximately 64 kilometres west of Prince George on Highway 16, is a popular recreation area. According to the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako there are almost 700 year-round and seasonal homes located on or near the waterfront at Cluculz Lake.
In 1984 the Nechako-Stewart Archaeological Survey found evidence of Carrier seasonal villages, cache pits, fishing sites and other habitation at 15 sites in the areas of Jardine Road, Haynes Road, Aaron Road, Beaumont Road, Meier Road East, Meier Road West and Tapping Road.
Under the Heritage Conservation Act, these sites are automatically protected and no changes or development can take place on them without a site alteration permit from the B.C. Archaeology Branch. Obtaining the permit requires contracting a professional archeologist to conduct a site assessment a process which can be lengthy, costly, and may not result in the granting of a permit.
Despite these restrictions, when a site is automatically designated an archeologically protected area it is not registered on the title, a spokesman for the Ministry of Natural Resource Operations said.
Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad lives at Cluculz Lake year-round, but only found out his property may be on a archeological site when contacted by a constituent.
“There is nothing on my land title, although my property also has the potential to be an archeological site,” Rustad said. “If there is a restriction on these properties, the property owners and any future property owners should know about it.”
Rustad said while it is important to preserve the history of the province, property owners have the right to know what they’re getting into.
Under section 32(2) of the Heritage Conservation Act, the Minister of Natural Resource Operations may put written notice on the title if a property is an automatically protected site. However, according to a ministry spokesman, that is not standard practice.
No central database of archeological sites exists and maps or information about archeological sites is not made public to protect the sites from illegal collection of artifacts, he said. A property owner can request the information through the Archaeological Branch, or from the regional district.
If a site is formally designated as an archaeological site, the designation is registered on the title and the owner may be eligible for financial compensation. However, when a site is automatically protected no compensation is available.
“If it is government that has imposed these restrictions then … the landowner should be compensated, plain and simple,” Rustad said. “The other question is the rights of the property owner. At what point do we say to the property owner,’you can’t do what it is you want to do with your property?'”
Rustad said he is investigating the issue and hopes to find out what options affected property owners have.
Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako planning director Jason Llewellyn said the regional district can access the archaeological information under a strictly-regulated information sharing agreement with the Archaeological Branch. Llewellyn said he believes the information sharing started in early 2007.
Llewellyn said the regional district can inform property owners, or their agent, of a protected site if they seek a building permit, or if they request the information.
“If someone is making inquiries about their property and ask things like, what are the issues with this property?’ we can tell them,” Llewellyn said. “(But) it really depends on what they ask. Sometimes if we get a specific question, like what is the zoning of the property, we’ll just answer that question.”
When Haynes Road resident Matthew Harraway bought his home in 2002, he thought he did his due diligence. Harraway said he checked the property title and found no indication of an archaeological site.
However, when he requested the building permit information in December eight years after buying and living on the property he was informed an automatically-protected archaeological site, FIRv-7, covered the majority of the usable land on his property.
The nearly 11-hectare archaeological site covers nearly all his shoreline and extends 66m to 121m inland, Harraway said.
“People like myself have been taken off guard. It’s passed through lawyers, realtors and even property appraisers have looked at this and didn’t find it,” Harraway said. “Over 90 per cent of the lakefront is deemed an archaeological site including the water where they used to put up nets and traps. It basically affects everything.”
Harraway had his property privately appraised last year at more than $300,000. If he’s able to sell the property now, he said, it will likely be for much less than that.
“The public should be aware of this, so nobody else gets trapped like we are,” he said. “I would just hate for somebody else to find out after they buy their place. If you had a fire, which isn’t that uncommon out here, whether you’d be able to build again is in question.”
Harraway said he’s read the report, Carrier Settlement and Subsistence in the Chinlac/Cluculz Area of Central B.C., which was the basis for the archaeological designation.
“There was a village on this property. It was used for hunting and fishing,” he said. “They had trails coming up Cluculz Creek. It’s absolutely a fascinating story, but I wish it didn’t affect me.”
To contract an archaeologist to access the property is, “a blank-cheque scenario,” he said.
“I’ve heard of one case were it cost $50,000,” he said. “If could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on what they find.”
Because the archaeological status isn’t reflected on the title, he said, it also means his assessed value for tax purposes does not reflect the real resale value of the property.
“We have a break-down in communication between three levels of government: the Archaeological Branch, regional district and B.C. Assessment,” he said.
B.C. Assessment north region deputy assessor Christopher Whyte said the assessment authority relies on title searches for information about archaeological sites or other mitigating factors on a property.
“We’re open and willing to reflect it (in the assessed value) but we defer to the experts,” Whyte said.
If a property owner can present B.C. Assessment with an archaeologic assessment which shows sites affecting the use of the property, then the assessed value will drop accordingly, he said.