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Court rules in favour of controversial road along cherished Surrey park

B.C. Supreme Court rules environmentalists couldn't gain standing to argue against the road in the public's interest
bear creek
Friends of Bear Creek Park at a rally.

The City of Surrey has a green light to proceed with a controversial road extension on the southern edge of Bear Creek Park, following a B.C. Supreme Court ruling that dismisses a petition from local environmentalists.

The Dec. 30 ruling from Justice Sheila Tucker tossed the petition from Force of Nature Society, political activist Annie Kaps and environmentalist Sebastian Sajda, who called on the court to halt construction of the 84 Avenue extension.

The extension is controversial as it cuts through green space connected to Bear Creek Park’s southern border. The road will be set atop a salmon-bearing stream. The extension has been rejected by citizens in the past but has been one of the city’s long-term (10-year) traffic management projects, to alleviate nearby traffic gridlock, at least temporarily.

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum and his Safe Surrey Coalition support the extension whereas his opponents have claimed blacktop politics and even personal interests could be involved.

Judge Tucker found the petitioners failed to gain standing on public interest grounds. In fact, the case had intervention from the Attorney General of B.C., which opposed granting standing on public interest grounds.

At the root of the issue was a provincial “Grant Trust” on some of the land involved in the proposed road. The environmentalists argued the land was designated for park space via the Grant Trust.

Judge Tucker declined to grant public interest standing for the petitioners to argue any alleged breach of the trust. The petitioners failed to show interference with a “private right or a special right or harm beyond that of the general public,” as would be required to have standing, wrote Tucker.

And the judge found there to be no public interest in at least some of the parcels being developed.

Judge Tucker also weighed in on the city’s online land use registry called COSMOS, which was the impetus of the petitioners’ argument.

“I am not prepared to place any weight on the COSMOS documents in determining the legal status of the disputed parcels. That said, the COSMOS documents are too vague and ambiguous to help with that in any event.”

The question of whether the city will enforce costs on the petitioners remains a question.

This case is one of three high-profile court cases involving the city’s legal resources. In 2019, the city lost its bid to ban Uber from its streets. But Uber forgave the city.

Meanwhile, the city is footing the costs of McCallum’s defense against breach of trust charges wherein a special prosecutor is alleging he lied to the public and to police about being run over by a citizen opposed to the municipal police transition.

The brother of city councillor Mandeep Nagra purchased an $8-million property on 84 Avenue, months after the City of Surrey fast-tracked the controversial extension of the road, in part at Nagra’s behest. Critics questioned if he was or is now in a conflict of interest, but nothing has come of the matter since Glacier Media reported it last October.

Sajda is now running for council in the October election, with the Surrey Connect slate, including Coun. Jack Hundial, who has suggested nearby temples have an interest in expanding the road and McCallum is seeking their support.

If built, the road will bisect a green space, although it won’t intrude on the actual park. Benefits include near-term traffic alleviation on King George Boulevard.

"We knew this was going to be an uphill battle from the start," said Sajda, President of Force of Nature and an organizer with Friends of Bear Creek Park, via a statement. “But it was essential that we try. We believe this road is bad policy and this position has not changed. We’re continuing to monitor a number of other issues related to this project, such as the unaccounted for raising of BC Hydro towers in the project area which promises to add many millions to the cost of this road.”

gwood@glaciermedia.ca