BC settles for $300k in forest management failure case

Flooded driveway of plaintiffs
Floodwaters submerge Ray Chipeniuk's driveway on his rural property south of Smithers, B.C. In 2018 the property flooded for the second time following logging operations upstream. Photo by Ray Chipeniuk
Daniel Mesec - CICK - SmithersBC | 01-11-2022
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on email
Share on print

In 2004, after years of searching for the perfect rural property, Ray Chipeniuk and Sonia Sawchuck found their forever home on a piece of land just south of Smithers.

They expanded a large network of forest trails and gardens expecting to enjoy the property throughout their retirement and build a home to spend the rest of their lives.

But a few years after they purchased their slice of paradise in Northwest BC, a huge swath of forests up river was auctioned off by BC Timber Sales, a provincial crown corporation which allocates about 20 per cent of BC’s annual allowable cut to private logging companies each year.

The cut block in question upstream was part of a large watershed, which encompassed the property. The cut block was auctioned off and about 30 per cent of the watershed was logged in 2009.

Although Chipeniuk and Sawchuck advocated for BC Timber sales to investigate down river impacts from logging 30 per cent of the watershed, their calls went unanswered and the trees came down.

In 2012, the property flooded for the first time. Soon after Chipeniuk and Sawchuck knew they needed to investigate the cause of the flood, they were sure it was due to the logging, so they hired UBC Forest Management researcher and Hydrologist Dr. Younes Alila to initiate a report that would eventual find that logging 30 per cent of a watershed was enough to destabilize the tree canopy that absorbed most of the snow that falls in the area, which now was absorbed into the ground, increasing hydrological flows down stream, which lead to the flooding.

In 2014 Chipeniuk and Sawchuck launch a lawsuit against the Provincial Government and associated logging operations which lead to the flooding, seeking damages of $300,000, for ecological grief as well as the loss in property value. Finally, after nearly eight years, at the eleventh hour just before the trial was to begin, government lawyers handed Chipeniuk and Sawchuck’s attorney, Ian Lawson, a handwritten note agreeing to settle the case for what they were asking.

The logging company, Triantha Enterprises Ltd., was also named a defendant in the lawsuit, which agreed to an earlier settlement, however the detail of that settlement are under a confidentiality agreement

Although Chipenick and Sawchuck received financial compensation, it pails in comparison to distress and impairment to the property they hoped to spend their retirement on. A settlement alone in this case is not as powerful as a judgment. If the case went to trial it could have set a precedent for future cases of the same nature, possibly one of the reasons why the government chose to settle.

However, Chipenick, Sawchuck and their lawyer, Ian Lawson, hopes this story encourages other property owners experiencing similar issues to approach the situation in the same way.

Today we speak to attorney Ian Lawson about the intricacies of Ray Chipeniuk and Sonia Sawchuck’s lawsuit, how it came to be in the first place, and why it ended the way it did.