Land dispute could halt airport traffic

An ongoing land dispute could shut down the Invermere Airport starting April 12.

An ongoing land dispute could shut down the Invermere Airport starting April 12.

Earlier this week Louie Stevens and his sister Mildred Stevens sent notices to the airport, RCMP and the Shuswap Indian Band that the northern portion of the runway — which the Stevens say is on their land — will no longer be available for use by aircraft.

“Effective April 12 all incoming and outgoing air traffic will be denied use and occupation of the north part of the Invermere Airport Runway,” the notice reads.

“Trespassers on the lands will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

The closure is part of an ongoing land dispute between the Stevens siblings and the Shuswap Indian Band. The Stevens allege the northern portion of the runway is on their land and that they have never received compensation for its presence.

According to the Stevens’ lawyer Malcolm MacPherson, the family has been in talks with the Shuswap band and had nearly come to an agreement that would see the family offered a five year holiday from Development Cost Charges, access to the band’s sewer system and other accommodations. The alternative, he says, would be for the band to give the siblings “millions” in back pay for the last several decades of airport operations.

But when talks broke down about a month ago, the Stevens decided to take more dramatic action.

“We’re both frustrated,” says Louie Stevens. “We’d like to shake them up so they’ll come back to the table again, try to be reasonable and try to settle. It’s been ongoing for too long.”

The Stevens say the airport runway will remain unobstructed, but anyone using its northern end will be  prosecuted for trespassing.

“For the safety of the pilots we’re not going to dig it up or block it with vehicles or whatever,” Louie said. “Hopefully the notices will be sufficient for them to do the safe thing on their part and to shake up the band.”

Murray Babin of Babin Air says the situation between the band and the Stevens is “unfortunate” for his company and will likely result in cancellations at the airport. However, he says it’s too early to say exactly what the exact effects of the runway shutdown will be.

“We’re stuck in between,” he added.

MacPherson says the Stevens have never had a formal, written agreement with the band for use of the land, which they own via a Certificate of Possession.

“What the other side, I suspect, will allege, is that they have some kind of verbal contract, which they do not,” he adds.

“The greater Invermere area, as well as those that use the airport have been benefitting really at the expense of the Stevens…. When they came to me a year and a half ago I just couldn’t believe the oppression they were facing. It’s unconscionable.”

No one from the Shuswap Band Office was available for comment, and a voicemail message advises the office is closed until April 9.

Staff at the Kinbasket Development Corporation declined to comment on the situation.