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Sooke Harbour: News: Deertrail Property

TLC pays Deertrail Sooke property tax bill

Norman Gidney, Times Colonist
Saturday, May 29, 2004


A cheque for $120,000 is on its way to Sooke municipality to cover several years of property taxes on the Deertrail property on the Sooke River.

The payment was part of the financial paperwork completed Friday as The Land Conservancy bought out the second mortgage on the scenic, partially-developed property now proposed for a park.

The money will be welcome in Sooke, where Deertrail is one of its largest property taxpayers. Most councillors oppose park status for Deertrail since that would make it tax-exempt.

But Mayor Janet Evans indicated Friday that Sooke's position is softening. She said a consultant has been hired to estimate the costs of cleaning up the site and of keeping it for mixed use.

She said the municipality "always said we wanted a park ... not just a passive park with an outhouse in the corner and a place to park a car."

Sooke wants the Deertrail riverside campground to remain, and the consultant -- hired by the Capital Regional District -- will look at the potential of an ecotourism lodge for overnight stays.

"I think they can both be handled on that property," said Evans.

It means Sooke could continue to earn some tax revenue there.

TLC said in a news release that it will encourage a plan for Deertrail that includes the campground, more on-site parking at several locations "and a unique, environmentally sound visitors' centre."

Cleanup and liability costs at Deertrail could be considerable, as numerous buildings and equipment are sited along its five kilometres, between the river and the Galloping Goose Trail. There is also a huge wooden lodge, now derelict, on the canyon edge.

TLC director Bill Turner said his group wants to get CRD participation in financing the park deal, and will bring the issue to the regional board in July.

Evans said Sooke and the CRD need to know how much it's all going to cost.

On Friday, TLC paid $1,375,000 to take over the second-mortgage position of Kimberley Global, at a considerable discount on the original $5 million US the company had lent to Deertrail. Kimberley paid the back taxes.

The mortgage company preferred to cut short its losses and move on, said Turner.

A first mortgage on the land is still held by the province, backing a $1.2-million tourism development grant from the 1980s that would have been forgivable if Deertrail had been finished. TLC hopes the province will write off or reduce its claim against the land, or accept an ownership position in Deertrail in exchange.

There are several other small claims, including one for $20,000 by the Workers' Compensation Board for unpaid WCB premiums for Deertrail workers, said Turner.

TLC is continuing its fundraising and still needs hundreds of thousand of dollars to complete the Deertrail deal. The money paid this week for the second mortgage was interim financing from a group of 11 local individuals who took a lower interest rate than a bank.

Victoria businessman Dave Green of Carmanah Technologies, who, with his wife, lent $200,000, said he's passionate about the river. He has often gone white-water kayaking there and it should be a park, he said.

"I think it's a wonderful idea."

Legal ownership of the Deertrail property -- the actual registered title -- is still in the name of developer Albert Yuen, although TLC now holds the main financial interest in the property.

TLC said it will start discussions with Yuen about ensuring the campground opens again this summer and that drive-in access can be made available to the public during the transition period.

Copyright 2004 Times Colonist (Victoria)

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