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Judge orders $80,000 in fines for creek damage

A development company and the man who was its director have been ordered to pay a combined total of $80,000 in fines for damaging fish habitat at Windebank Creek in Mission in 2008.

Mission Western Developments Ltd. and Blake Larsen were each convicted of two offences under the Fisheries Act and were sentenced Nov. 6 in Abbotsford provincial court.

Larsen was ordered to pay $20,000, while the company was fined $60,000.

Additionally, Mission Western Developments was ordered to pay $26,540 to the Fraser Valley Conservancy for the cost of site restoration.

The case involved work performed at Windebank Creek between Jan. 23 and Feb. 18, 2008.

Judge Kenneth Skilnick said the defendants hired an environmental consultant to advise them on how to best comply with environmental laws while cleaning up a piece of commercial property they had purchased.

"The defendants elected not to proceed with that plan and embarked on a course of action contrary to much of what their environmental consultant had recommended," Skilnick said.

The judge said among the advice given to the defendants was to not cut down trees but to only remove tree limbs that presented a hazard.

Instead, they cut down several trees, in some cases uprooting them.

They were also told to have an environmental monitor on site when the work was being performed, but they chose not to do so nor did they inform their environmental consultant.

Skilnick said the removal of the trees, the removal of shade from the creek and the clearing of adjacent vegetation interfered with the fish habitat by altering the stream temperature, decreasing food and nutrient sources, and decreasing soil and bank stability.

By October 2011, the property had been subdivided into two parcels. One parcel now contains the Mission Common commercial mall at the corner of Lougheed Highway and Cedar Valley Connector.

The second, containing Windebank Creek, was "gifted" to the Fraser Valley Conservancy, a non-profit society whose goals include environmental protection.

Mission Western Developments paid the conservancy $32,200 for the "replanting and maintenance" of the land.

An expert at trial testified that the fish habitat at the creek will take five to seven years to restore and at a cost of almost $59,000.

Skilnick agreed with the assessment and ordered that the company pay the additional funds to the conservancy to cover the costs of site restoration.

He said he wanted the sentence imposed to be significant to address the "recklessness of the defendants' action."

"Environmental consultants may wish to use the story of Windebank Creek as a parable for clients who are thinking of ignoring their advice," Skilnick added.

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