Archaeological investigation delays new restaurant

Builders Beware: A large portion of downtown Lillooet is an archaeological site and a permit is required before any excavation can be done.

Jai Singh has learned that lesson the hard way. He was aiming for an April opening date for his fast food chicken restaurant and drive-thru in the 700-block of Main Street.

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But the Compliance and Enforcement Branch of the Archaeology Branch of the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development stopped all work at the site last month because it says Singh may not be in compliance with the Heritage Conservation Act because he’s done “non-permitted alterations to an archaeological site.”

Singh says his sub-contractors are waiting impatiently and he has no idea when work will resume at the property, located at 716 Main Street next to his ESSO gas station.

He says he contacted the Archaeology Branch in June requesting that it send him a site alteration permit. Singh says the ministry replied by email but did not send him the requested site alteration permit form. The ministry says he was advised he would need the permit.

“I didn’t understand what they needed,” says Singh. “If they had sent me the form, I would have filled it in. I’m busy with this and that; I was waiting and waiting and they never responded for two months,” he told the News Nov. 2. “So I assumed everything was OK. I had a permit from the city; they said there was no problem. They have a site plan not showing anything about a burial ground, absolutely nothing.”

His email correspondence with the ministry resumed on Sept. 26 after excavation began on Singh’s property. The ministry says it received information that Singh had started to excavate the site without a permit, “causing alteration to the site.” He was told again he required a permit to alter the site.

On Sept. 28, a ministry email informed him that “non-permitted impacts had likely occurred at this time as a result of your development.”

On Oct. 1, the ministry contacted Singh to confirm his receipt of the Sept. 28 email. He confirmed receipt on Oct. 2, but work continued at the site and concrete was poured. The ministry then issued a temporary protection order on Oct. 5 and all work was stopped.

On Oct. 21, Singh wrote to the ministry saying he needed the site alteration permit “as soon as possible, please.”

Singh acknowledged, “I’m new, I know nothing about archaeology, but they (the ministry) are the experts and they are supposed to tell me what to do.”

He suggests the branch should re-issue a site development plan and is questioning why the ministry is “ sitting on it and dragging and dragging out” the process.

“What is the big deal about sending me the form? I’ll send it in, whatever the cost is involved we’ll pay it, and let’s move on.”

He added that, contrary to local rumours, no bones were found during the excavation and screening of the site.

A spokesperson for the ministry told the News Singh “would have had a much speedier process if he would have followed initial and follow-up directions of Archaeology Branch staff. The failure to do so has resulted in the launch of an investigation by Compliance and Enforcement Branch staff, being supported by Archaeological Branch, into possible non-compliance with the Heritage Conservation Act at the property. Because it is an ongoing investigation, further details cannot be provided.”

When the News asked how long the investigation could take, the ministry spokesperson replied, “The investigation will take as long as needed for Natural Resource Officers to determine if non-compliance with the Heritage Conservation Act occurred, along with any fines.”

The ministry says a large archaeological site was identified in downtown Lillooet as part of the Lillooet Main Street Downtown Revitalization Project in 1995.

“There are also a number of other smaller archaeological sites located throughout the community of Lillooet,” the spokesperson added. “Archaeological sites throughout B.C. are important as they provide information about Indigenous life for the last 14,000 years and non-Indigenous life for the past 200 years.”

Before doing any ground alteration, whether for new development or re-development, the ministry says property owners should consult with their municipal government as part of the building permit process.

Singh says he did this, but when building inspector Tom Willey visited the property to compare notes with cultural heritage conservation specialist Tal Fisher, their site plans were different.

Prospective developers can also contact the Archaeology Branch directly for information about the location of archaeological sites in relation to their proposed developments or property improvements by completing an Archaeological Site Data Request Form(https://www.archdatarequest.nrs.gov.bc.ca) or calling 250 953-3334.

Singh says he’s worried he could be held up as much as six months or a year by the archaeological study. “This project is costing me almost a million dollars…It’s already delayed almost two months.”

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