Stan Kroenke wins lake access legal battle with Nicola Valley Fishing and Gaming Club

American billionaire Stan Kroenke, the real estate and sports mogul who owns more than 2 million acres of farmland in North America, has just won a ten-year legal battle in Canada to keep the public from d ” access two lakes that can only be reached by property.

Kroenke, who is married to Walmart heiress Anne Walton, owns the largest ranch in Canada, a towering mass larger than Metro Vancouver, which entirely surrounds two bodies of water: Stoney and Minnie Lakes. The lakes, each over half a mile long, are both publicly owned in Canada and filled with fish. But the orientation of Kroenke’s property leaves citizens without a route to reach them, forcing would-be hunters and fishermen to take a small dirt path or unpaved motorable road through its lands to access the wilderness maintained by it. their taxes.

Kroenke’s ranch, known as the Douglas Lake Cattle Company or Douglas Lake Ranch, blocked access to these roads with locked gates and fences. (Notably, the ranch has two private lakes on the same property, which visitors must pay an undisclosed daily rate to access). So in 2013, the Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club, a local nonprofit dedicated to wildlife management in the area, sued the ranch to open the passageways, arguing the trail was of historical significance. dating back to its use by an indigenous village. , and that Canadian citizens have the right to access public lands.

““He wiped out 10 years of research and work, all for the benefit of a wealthy American.”“

– Rick McGowan, Nicola Valley Fishing and Hunting Club

In 2018, a British Columbia Supreme Court judge sided with the recreation group, noting that Canadian tax dollars had been used to rehabilitate the historic trail. But Kroenke appealed, and on Friday a higher court overturned the 2018 ruling, barring Canadians from “entering” on both lanes.

“Our whole club and most of the inhabitants of the Nicola Valley cannot believe that an appeals court can, with the stroke of a pen, erase a period of 20 days. [British Columbia] Supreme Court ruling, ”Rick McGowan, director of the Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club, told The Daily Beast on Monday. “He wiped out 10 years of research and work, all for the benefit of a wealthy American.”

The appeal judges confirmed in their decision that the lakes and the fish they contain do not belong to Kroenke’s ranch, but they accepted his lawyers’ argument that a path does not reach the “limit. natural “waters and that there was not enough evidence. to link the trail to native roots. In their decision, the judges wrote that the trial judge had “added his voice to the chorus of those who sought to limit the rights of private landowners.”

“The club (Nicola Valley) invites us to recognize a right to cross private land where it is necessary to do so to access a lake on land reserved for the Crown for the benefit of the public,” the judge wrote. Peter Willcock appeal on file. . “In my opinion, while this argument may attract considerable public support, it has no support in our law. “

Evan Cooke, a lawyer representing the Douglas Lake Cattle Company, called Friday’s ruling a “good decision.”

“The DLCC was convinced from the outset that its position in the litigation was in accordance with British Columbia law,” said Cooke.

Last week’s decision came at a heavy cost for the environmental nonprofit association. The judges ruled that the organization was not a “public interest litigator,” meaning it will have to pay the billionaire’s legal fees for his appeal, in addition to the hundreds of thousands of dollars owed for them- same. According to Vancouver Sun, the association supports its own legal fund with picnics and raffles. “It will probably be $ 25,000 or $ 30,000 [for Kroenke’s legal expenses]”McGowan said.” I don’t think we would fundraise to pay the legal bills, but we are organizing funding to take the case to the Supreme Court of Canada on a few issues. “

Club lawyer Christopher Harvey told the Daily Beast in an email that “the central issue in this case is the public rights of access to public lakes versus the private property rights of landowners around the lakes. “.

“The law maintains the balance between these two competing rights, but when it comes to water rights, the law has long favored public rights over private rights,” he said in an e- mail. “What is remarkable about this decision is that it flips this equation … Even though the water is publicly owned, no one is now allowed to cross it if the bed under the water is owned by a particular.”

Kroenke made his fortune through land use planning: Forbes estimates that he owns around 30 million square feet of real estate, mostly in malls near his in-laws’ megastores, generating a net worth of over $ 8.2 billion. One of its properties is a huge expanse of land in North Texas around Lake Diversion near Wichita Falls. In 2016, Kroenke evicted hundreds of longtime residents from the 35,000-acre ranch, forcing them to leave their homes with less than four months’ notice. According to Dallas News, most residents were either elderly or on fixed incomes. “We have family members who have had leases here for 50 years,” said Annette McNeil, a longtime resident. St. Louis Post-Expedition at the time.

Kroenke has also invested some of his fortune in sports teams and owns the NHL Colorado Avalanche, NFL LA Rams, English Premier League Arsenal FC, and NBA Denver Nuggets, among others. . Technically, the NFL does not allow team owners to have professional sports properties in competing cities. But Kroenke found a way around the rules: he arranged to put two of the teams under the name of his son, Josh Kroenke, while keeping them in the family.

In 2017, Kroenke got involved in a different kind of sport: an on-demand app called MyOutdoorTV, dubbed the “Netflix of the hunting world”. The bloodthirsty pay-TV channel broadcast, among other things, the trophy hunt for endangered animals, including lions and elephants. After MOTV was widely criticized in the press, Kroenke asked it to remove all content related to big game hunting.

Harvey has hinted that the legal findings of the decision leave room for another appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, if the fishing group can afford it. McGowan agreed, noting that the club plan to raise funds to support the effort. “The judge[s] effectively says that water on private land is not navigable for the people of Canada, ”said McGowan. “That means they just give it to the landowner for free. “

A spokesperson for British Columbia’s Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resources Operations and Rural Development said it was too early to comment on the decision as the Hunting and Fishing Club may try to make weigh the highest court.

The BC Court of Appeal decision is a landmark case with broad implications for public access to land in an area where many state-owned waterways are closed by private property. The case is part of a larger international movement on public rights to the wilderness, known as “freedom to wander”. There is increasing pressure in British Columbia to establish “right to roam” laws. “It doesn’t make sense to me,” Judge Joel Groves wrote in the original 2018 ruling, “that the Crown retain ownership of the lakes, only so that there is no access. “

“It’s not a happy judgment for public rights,” Harvey said. “The Attorney General has a legal obligation to protect public rights, but in this case, that did not happen. The club is fully autonomous.