The bylaws that allow Target Marine Hatcheries to harvest sturgeon for caviar on-site are being challenged for a third time by Tillicum Bay resident Shirley Kuciuk, to the dismay of Sechelt Mayor John Henderson.
“I respect the right of any citizen to take any action they so wish; however, I’m gravely concerned about the negative impact on the well-being of Sechelt,” he said. “The publicity that we receive from these continuing actions hurts things like property values and the perception people have about Sechelt, and that really concerns me.”
He said staff time and lawyers’ fees to defend the District against Kuciuk’s latest lawsuit will cost about $50,000 “just to get started.”
Kuciuk was part of a group of residents who sued Sechelt after the Target bylaws were passed the first time and she filed a solo suit against the District when the bylaws were passed a second time. Both times the petitioners won when procedural defects were found and the District was forced to throw out their bylaws and start over.
This time Henderson’s sure the District did everything right: “I’m confident we’ve done everything in accordance with the procedures and regulations of the Community Charter and the Local Government Act,” he said.
He noted that if the court again decides the bylaws should be thrown out, council will start the process for a fourth time to allow Target to harvest sturgeon for caviar on-site.
“This is not an action for monetary damages to be paid to her, this is an action to set aside something we’ve done. So, in theory, if she was to win, we would set aside the bylaws and presumably we’d start again,” Henderson said.
Kuciuk’s lawyer John Alexander spoke to Coast Reporter this week to explain why his client is moving forward with a third lawsuit.
“The primary concern of Shirley and her neighbours continues to be the same thing, and that is the inappropriate and perhaps risky use of this Target property where it is in a residential neighbourhood and the environmental risk of doing what they want to do with a processing plant in that location,” Alexander said. “And so each time the bylaws have been challenged, it has been for slightly different reasons, but all with the same objective in mind, which is to attempt to either prevent the hatchery from becoming a fish processing plant or, if it can’t be prevented, at least make sure that there are proper environmental controls in place.”
Justin Henry, manager at Target Marine Hatcheries, said a referendum held last November showed the majority of people in Sechelt are in favour of his company harvesting sturgeon for caviar on site.
“Like the Sechelt council, the people of Sechelt have declared their support,” he said. “The petition will not change those things. What it will do is cost the local taxpayers more money and could potentially cause more delay. That delay would result in lost jobs.”
Kuciuk’s most recent lawsuit, filed on Aug. 7, alleges the District “improperly exercised its statutory authority” to adopt the bylaws and that council didn’t give enough notice for the public to respond to materials they had in their possession. It also alleges the District didn’t provide a fair opportunity for all to be heard.
The District of Sechelt will respond to the petition in the coming weeks and then a date to hear the case will be set.