A Castor resident is wondering why the provincial government is evicting campers from a popular campground called Shelter Bay, located at Marie Lake, northeast of Edmonton.
Castor business owner Greg Laverty, interviewed by the ECA Review Oct. 7, stated his family, along with families across Alberta, has been resident at Shelter Bay Campground for over 19 years, a place offering year-round camping. Laverty stated he’s got a fifth-wheel trailer and boat there.
Laverty stated the provincial government had notified campers they may be evicted from the campground for environmental reasons, but Laverty also noted he had trouble finding accurate information about what was going on.
“I just don’t understand why they’re kicking everybody out for a few people’s mistakes,” stated Laverty by phone.
Apparently, the provincial government tried to evict campers this past spring. Laverty stated some campers had been told the eviction had been appealed, and the appeal went through an appeal board process this summer but was lost this fall.
Laverty said he phoned Alberta Environment and Parks in Bonnyville, Alta. and spoke to a rather curt representative of the department who, in essence, said “Two weeks and we’re evicting you.”
Again, Laverty stated he’s had trouble trying to get any information about what he’s supposed to do.
“There’s a lot of hearsay going on,” he said.
Laverty stated it would be nice to now what’s going on since Marie Lake is fairly far away from Castor and if he needs to move his stuff, it’s not just a simple thing.
According to social media posts on the Save Shelter Bay Campground Facebook page, the eviction was enforced on Thanksgiving weekend.
When contacted for comment, the Ministry of Environment and Parks responded Oct. 21 through Jess Sinclair, press secretary for Minister Jason Nixon, who stated some serious accusations were made against the campground.
“The operators of the Shelter Bay Campground were found to be contravening the Public Lands Act, a decision that has been upheld by the Public Lands Appeal Board,” stated Sinclair in an email.
“As the land is not under a disposition, there is no authority for any person to occupy these public lands.
“As a result, all current campers can no longer reside permanently at the site. This decision follows many years of non-compliance issues and decades of the department working with the former operator to try and assist them to comply with the legislation.
“Examples of the non-compliance issues included the release of gas/oil in the ground, wastewater discharges, unregistered motor vehicles on the property, unauthorized structures and unauthorized boat lifts/docks in the water.
“The department is working with the former operator and campsite users to remove personal property and structures. Notices advising campers to vacate the site are being posted this week,” added Sinclair.
Contacted Oct. 20, Laverty confirmed everyone has been ordered by the provincial government to leave the campground.
“Well, we’ve had to move everything,” said Laverty by phone.
He stated the provincial government has notified campground residents they must have their stuff out by the end of October.
He said moving everything is a major job, as Castor is several hours from Marie Lake.
Laverty stated he feels the same way many other campers feel, that they were in the dark through most of this process and never had a chance to speak.
To add injury to insult, campers won’t get back their pre-paid rent. Laverty stated he paid a year’s rent in June, and got about two months of camping out of it.
The campground operators, Bob and Sharon Heigh, responded to the ECA Review through their son-in-law Chris Witwer, who stated in a phone interview Oct. 23 that the provincial government based all their accusations against the Shelter Bay Campground on hearsay with no evidence, “Basically blaming the campground operators...which is completely false.”
Witwer stated the Heighs have been operating Shelter Bay campground for 33 years. Things started to go south in 2015 when the provincial government stated they wanted the Heighs to apply for a new disposition, then last fall stating the government wasn’t pursuing a disposition anymore but rather eviction.
Witwer stated this was appealed and the Heighs felt they won at every level of the appeal.
However, at the end of the process the appeal board ruled in favour of the government. The only option left is going through the ombudsman to seek a decision against the appeal process which could offer the campground operators a new appeal.
Witwer disputed all of the accusations made by the Ministry of Environment and Parks, including discharging sewage into the lake.
“There’s no evidence of that,” said Witwer.
Looking back at the ministry’s decision, the appeal and the eviction, Laverty said he feels campers could have had a bigger voice in the problem.
“I don’t think it’s the right way of doing things,” he added.
Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, East Central Alberta Review