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

A screenshot of the First Peoples Cultural Councils First Peoples’ Map. (First Peoples Cultural Council)
Online resource blends B.C.’s Indigenous language, art and culture

North Saanich advisor says initiative supports urgent need to preserve Indigenous languages

General manager Lindsey Pomper says Sidney’s Star Cinema cannot wait welcome audiences when it reopens June 18, amid an easing of public health measures. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Sidney’s Star Cinema raises curtain for the first time after months in the darkness

Iconic theatre to reopen at half capacity for Friday night showing

A dogs in parks pilot study unanimously approved by Saanich council will evaluate how park space can best be shared between dog owners and non-owners alike. (Photo by Megan Atkins-Baker/News Staff)
Saanich to study park-sharing strategy between those with and without pets

District-wide People, Parks and Dogs study to produce recommendations by fall

Staff member Lena Laitinen gives the wall at BoulderHouse a workout during a media tour on June 16. (Rick Stiebel/News Staff)
BoulderHouse raring to rock Langford

Popularity of bouldering continues to climb across Greater Victoria

GardenWorks nursery in Oak Bay at its home until August. (Black Press Media file photo)
GardenWorks puts down new roots in Oak Bay this summer

Nursery shifts down The Avenue to fill former fitness studio space

The BC SPCA Wild Animal Rehabilitation Centre in Metchosin saw 16 fawns come through in May, with another four in the first four days of June. (Courtesy Wild ARC)
An abandoned fawn doesn’t mean it’s orphaned, reminds Greater Victoria wildlife expert

20 orphaned fawns turned in to Wild ARC in Metchosin so far this season

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: When was the last time you visited the mainland?

The films are again lighting the screens at local theatres, the wine… Continue reading

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of June 15

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Chief Rosanne Casimir stands outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School after speaking to reporters, in Kamloops, B.C., on Friday, June 4, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Kamloops chief says more unmarked graves will be found across Canada

Chief Rosanne Casimir told a virtual news conference the nation expects to release a report at the end of June

A woman wears a vaccinated sticker after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. ranks among highest in world in COVID-19 first-dose shots: health officials

More than 76% of eligible people have received their 1st shot

An artists conception of the new terminal building at the Pitt Meadows Regional Airport.
Air travel taking off in B.C., but lack of traffic controllers a sky-high concern

There will be demand for more air traffic controllers: Miller

Canadian Armed Forces experts are on their way to North Vancouver after a local homeowner expressed worry about a military artifact he recently purchased. (Twitter DNV Fire and Rescue)
Military called in to deal with antique ‘shell’ at North Vancouver home

‘The person somehow purchased a bombshell innocently believing it was an out-of-commission military artifact’

Amy Kobelt and Tony Cruz have set their wedding date for February, hoping that more COVID-19 restrictions will have lifted. (The Macleans)
B.C. couples ‘gambling’ on whether COVID rules will let them dance at their wedding

Amy Kobelt and Tony Cruz pushed back their wedding in hopes of being able to celebrate it without the constraints of COVID-19

Most Read