Massive archeology bill not settled for Willows homeowner

Wendi MacKay stands in front of her home on the Esplanade at Willows Beach. She continues to battle the province over the bill for an archeological assessment done on her property before her house was built.

Wendi MacKay stands in front of her home on the Esplanade at Willows Beach. She continues to battle the province over the bill for an archeological assessment done on her property before her house was built.

Resident appealing decision archeology bill

When Wendi MacKay agreed to pay $5,000 toward an archaeological study of her Esplanade property four years ago, she had no idea she’d eventually end up paying 10 times that much.

Or that it would take a year and a half for construction to begin on her house.

“They were digging by little slices and then they would sift, scrape, and sift some more,” MacKay said, describing how a team of archeologists worked for eight months on her beachfront lot.

The retired lawyer and her husband bought the property in 2005 from her parents, who had owned it for 22 years. There was nothing on title to alert MacKay of any archeological significance attached to the land.

In 2007, the year her husband died, her architect recommended she have an archeological assessment done. That $6,000 assessment recommended further study, with a $30,000 price tag.

MacKay wound up hiring a different firm whose estimate came in at $51,000, “but that was to be for everything: digging, reporting, testing,” she said.

Eight months later, with four to six workers on the site every day, the archeology bill had risen to $61,000 and the firm told her they’d need another $30,000 to $40,000 to finish the job.

After protracted discussions with the archeology branch of what is now the B.C. Ministry of Forestry, Lands and Natural Resource Operations – it mandates that such studies are done before construction begins – MacKay was OK’d to take out a building permit.

To limit the expensive archeological process, she proposed the house be built on pilings rather than a poured concrete basement. But even those pilings created a controversy. Members of the Songhees First Nation blockaded the property, demanding that more work be done.

That dispute was resolved, work was completed and the house built, but MacKay took the archeology branch to court to recoup costs, including increased construction expenses, in the amount of $600,000. She lost that bid in B.C. Supreme Court last month, but plans to appeal.

MacKay thinks the province should be helping homeowners with archeological survey costs.

“I think the government should pay for it all, but assuming they don’t … they should at least put notice on people’s title so that when somebody buys, they know they can make reasonable decisions.”

The ministry says registered archeology sites are on property titles. But even though an in-depth study of MacKay’s property had been done in the summer of 1972, the site was not registered. A ministry spokesperson said that checking with the branch should be de facto for property buyers, “just like you would check with a home inspector.”

Esquimalt-Royal Roads MLA Maurine Karagianis has several times introduced a private member’s bill in the legislature asking that a program be established to assist with costs protecting and stewarding important archeology sites in B.C. It has yet to be approved by government.

“There’s a real conflict between the desire and right of First Nations to protect history and heritage and … landowners who believe they should have the right to build without incurring these huge bills,” she said.

Songhees archeology technician Ron Sam is currently consulting with archeologists on about 20 Greater Victoria sites involving private land. The surveys are invaluable to the Songhees, he said.

“It’s part of who we are – it’s our past, our people. Big or small, it’s got to be done.”

MacKay now has a 3,000-square-foot house on the carefully landscaped property with spectacular water views.

“But was it worth it? I don’t know,” she said.

vmoreau@oakbaynews.com

Just Posted

Victoria police are looking for the owner of a pink and white bike they recovered in North Park. (Courtesy of VicPD)
Victoria police searching for owner of child’s bike

Officers recovered the pink and white bike in North Park

A report on food security in Sooke reveals that nearly 15 per cent of people in Sooke have trouble getting food on the table. (The Canadian Press)
Food security a growing challenge in Sooke

‘This isn’t going to get any better if we don’t do anything about it’

A single-vehicle incident impacted the morning commute on the Pat Bay Highway. (Black Press Media file photo)
TRAFFIC: Single-vehicle incident closes section of Pat Bay

Northbound traffic down to one lane, southbound reopened

Four residents and two cats were displaced from their home in James Bay when a fire broke out Sunday afternoon. (Jane Skrypnek/News Staff)
No injuries in James Bay house fire

Fire broke out at about 2 p.m. Sunday

Construction will begin soon on a building in Victoria designed for families and seniors with low to moderate household incomes. (Black Press Media file photo)
New building in Victoria aimed at providing more affordable homes for families, seniors

Four-storey building will provide 58 homes for residents with low to moderate household incomes

Jesse Roper tackles weeds in his garden to kick off the 2021 season of What’s In My Garden Man? (YouTube/Whats In My Garden)
VIDEO: Metchosin singer-songwriter Jesse Roper invites gardeners into his plot

What’s In My Garden, Man? kicks off with the poop on compost

Indigenous rights and climate activists gathered outside Liberty Mutual’s office in Vancouver to pressure the insurance giant to stop covering Trans Mountain. (Photo by Andrew Larigakis)
Activists work to ensure Trans Mountain won’t get insurance

Global campaign urging insurance providers to stay away from Canadian pipeline project

In the first election with public money replacing corporate or union donations, B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau and B.C. NDP leader John Horgan take part in election debate at the University of B.C., Oct. 13, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)
B.C. MLAs ponder 2022 ‘sunset’ of subsidy for political parties

NDP, B.C. Fed call for increase, B.C. Liberals have no comment

Investigators use a bucket to help recover human remains at a home burned in the Camp fire, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018, in Magalia, Calif. Many of the missing in the deadly Northern California wildfire are elderly residents in Magalia, a forested town of about 11,000 north of the destroyed town of Paradise. (AP Photo/John Locher)
‘Forever War’ with fire has California battling forests instead

Five of the state’s largest-ever blazes seared California last year, as authorities tackle prevention

Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto and IOC President Thomas Bach, on a screen, speak during a five=party online meeting at Harumi Island Triton Square Tower Y in Tokyo Monday, June 21, 2021. The Tokyo Olympics will allow some local fans to attend when the games open in just over a month, Tokyo organizing committee officials and the IOC said on Monday. (Rodrigo Reyes Marin/Pool Photo via AP)
Tokyo Olympics to allow Japanese fans only, with strict limits

Organizers set a limit of 50% capacity — up to a maximum of 10,000 fans

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

A portion of the George Road wildfire burns near Lytton, B.C. in this Friday, June 18, 2021 handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, BC Wildfire Service *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Blaze near Lytton spread across steep terrain, says BC Wildfire Service

Fire began Wednesday and is suspected to be human-caused, but remains under investigation

Most Read