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Waterfront owner charged by DFO

Contentious West Van breakwater damaged habitat, say officers

A prominent waterfront property owner in West Vancouver has been charged with violating the Fisheries Act for allegedly damaging fish habitat while rebuilding a breakwater on his land.

John Laxton, a former head of BC Hydro, faces several charges of harmful alteration or destruction of fish habitat through infill on the shoreline of his property at 5202 Marine Drive.

Fisheries officers allege work done by Laxton on the breakwater resulted in destruction of habitat in the intertidal area and waters of Howe Sound and destruction of riparian habitat.

Fisheries officers allege the work on the foreshore was carried out between January and October 2011 at the Marine Drive property.

Laxton and his neighbours Lawrence and Sandra Millson are also charged with harming fish habitat with similar work at 5144 and 5146 Pitcairn Place.

The maximum penalty under the act is $300,000.

Neither Laxton nor the Millsons have responded to the charges yet, which have not been proven in court. They are expected to make an appearance in North Vancouver provincial court Aug. 8.

It isn't the first time Laxton has generated controversy with his breakwater that protects four waterfront properties he owns along Marine Drive that face Howe Sound near Pitcairn Place.

The breakwater itself consists of an artificial point of land, created by filling in the foreshore, which Laxton previously leased from the province. Between 2003 and 2007, Laxton bought the newly created land - both above and below the original high-tide mark - from the province.

Laxton then applied for to the District of West Vancouver for a permit to go ahead with rebuilding the breakwater, which would essentially involve construction of a large wall of rock or lock blocks on the foreshore to replace the crumbling structure.

When the municipality refused to grant Laxton permission for the repairs to his breakwater in 2008, he took the case to court, arguing the repairs aren't land use that can be regulated by town hall.

A judge agreed with him.

The creation of additional land on waterfront properties by filling in the foreshore has long been a sore spot with the municipality.

In the past, the convention was waterfront property owners could only legally own land extending to the high-tide mark.

But in the past decade, the province began selling off some of its foreshore.

West Vancouver has tried to restrict construction of retaining walls and fill on waterfront properties to land above original high tide lines.

District staff previously voiced concern over Laxton's plan to build a large wall on the foreshore and fill in everything behind it, because it involved filling in subtidal waters.

Laxton spoke to the North Shore News in the fall of 2010 on his plan, commenting, "I have an environmental report saying it will actually improve fisheries habitat."

In a statement emailed to the North Shore News on Friday, Laxton's assistant Natalie Cade said, "For the past two years, Mr. Laxton has been working with DFO seeking their assistance as to how best to repair his breakwater, (that was built 50 years ago with West Vancouver Council's approval) so as to protect both the breakwater and the fish habitat adjacent to his property."

Cade said "the repair work was carried out on the advice of reputable experts in fish habitat who have been able to confirm that the repair work has been well done and has considerably improved the fish habitat.

"Unfortunately Mr. Laxton has found himself caught in the cross-fire between the DFO and the government who are making major amendments to the Fisheries Act to repeal the sections under which the DFO is attempting to proceed."

Cade said Laxton would not make further comment until "his dealings with DFO are concluded - hopefully in the near future."