Court declares Highline a highway

Judge rules link between D'Arcy, Seton Portage meets definition of public road

The B.C. Supreme Court has declared that the Douglas Trail Road between D'Arcy and Seton Portage - commonly known as Highline Road - is a provincial highway.

In her decision dated for Thursday (Feb. 7), Justic Loryl D. Russell determined that the provincial government had previously spent money to maintain the road, and therefore should carry highway status.

The ruling means that the province will be responsible for maintaining the 24-kilometre stretch of road and bringing it up to provincial standard.

The decision came in response to a petition filed by Wolfgang Skutnik, whose residence accesses the road, to declare it as a public highway.

The Douglas Trail is the only road connection between the two communities north of Pemberton.

Among the respondents opposed to the petition was the St'at'imc Chiefs Council (SCC), which argued that insufficient evidence had been provided for the road to meet the definition of a provincial public highway, while expressing concern that bringing the road up to highway standard could interfere with traditional First Nations access to the area.

The council also claimed it would be unconstitutional for the B.C. Government to declare the Highline a highway without first consulting the SCC.

However, Justice Russell disagreed with the SCC on both fronts, stating in her decision that it "does not have standing to raise the issue of its cultural grievances with the Crown on this petition."

In reaching her decision, Russell also found that the province had at various times dating back to 1969 provided "significant" public funding to maintain the road, enough so that it met B.C.'s definition of a public highway.

"The (Ministry of Transportation) devoted public money to major structural improvements upon the Douglas Trail Road, making these expenditures significant," wrote Russell.

Russell considered input from various stakeholders in coming to her decision, including a statement from the Village of Pemberton declaring the road "an important access route in the region for residents, businesses, tourists and emergency situations."

An official with the SCC said the group has yet to receive its legal summary on the matter and will not be commenting until that time.

Meanwhile, a Ministry of Transportation spokesperson said in an email that "the ministry and its legal counsel will be studying this recent ruling and determining next steps."

See more on this story in Thursday's (Feb. 14) edition of The Question.

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