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WV water fight goes to court

Entrepreneur sues B.C. in 80s-era dispute

A West Vancouver businessman who claims actions of the provincial government unfairly robbed him of lucrative business opportunities is finally getting his day in court.

A lawsuit launched by Rain Coast Water Corp. owned by Colin Beach, is being heard this month before a B.C. Supreme Court justice, 20 years after Beach says the government of the day dammed up his business plans while showing preferential treatment to a competitor.

Beach is claiming the government misconduct caused him to lose lucrative contracts.

In the mid-to-late 1980s, both his company and a competitor, Western Canada Water, were vying for a chance to export B.C.'s water in bulk to parched areas of California that were experiencing a drought.

Beach alleges the Social Credit government of the day gave unfair advantages to his competitor while remaining unduly harsh and unaccommodating towards his own business plans.

The province later banned bulk water exports in the early 1990s.

In the lawsuit, launched by Rain Coast Water Corp., Beach argues he could have had a successful company if it hadn't been for government interference. He is also arguing the province had no right to disallow bulk water exports.

Along with the province, the lawsuit names former Social Credit premier Bill Vander Zalm and the estate of Elwood Veitch, former minister of international business and immigration, as defendants, along with several other former Social Credit cabinet ministers from the 1980s.

The province has argued that regardless of provincial actions at the time, Beach didn't suffer any business losses, because before any company got a bulk water contract from the Goleta Water District in California, rains returned, ending the drought and making the import of water unnecessary.

In an earlier court decision, Justice Peter Leask ruled there were enough inconsistencies in affidavits concerning the potential California water contract that the issues would have to be decided in a full civil trial, currently being heard.

According to court documents, Beach first approached the province about taking water from Freil Lake in Hotham Sound in the mid 1980s.

His company was granted a 15-year water licence and foreshore licence to build a plant, but under terms requiring Beach to pay all of the fees - totaling almost $100,000 - upfront, regardless of how much water he actually used.

According to court documents, when Beach asked for a break from the government, the province refused, saying it would set a precedent.

Later, the province abruptly cancelled the licence, saying Beach hadn't paid his fees.

But at the same time, according to the claim, the same government granted a licence with much more favourable terms to Western Canada Water Enterprises to take water from a lake near Ocean Falls.

That company received a longer lease, was allowed to make payments in installments and was excused from many of the application fees required of Rain Coast, Beach argues.

He claims that gave his competitor an unfair advantage.

The competitor later went bankrupt, but not before a period of considerable business success with both domestic and export sales of water under the Canadian Glacier brand, according to the lawsuit.

Michael Weiner of White Rock, a former business marketer, testified in the trial.

Weiner told the judge he got involved with Beach over the prospect of marketing his water in the late 1980s.

At that time, there was a good market for that kind of business, he said. "It was a very, very pure source."

The trial is continuing in B.C. Supreme Court.

jseyd@nsnews.com