Land Conservancy: Dire straits hidden until too late

The Westerly News recently reported on Lois Warner’s concern over The Land Conservancy’s consideration of selling Monks Point. Warner’s brother Harold Monks left the property to TLC in 2008 and it is now one of many properties TLC is considering selling to pay off roughly $8 million worth of debt.

TLC has filed for creditor protection and all land sales must receive court approval.

Warner found out about the potential sale of Monks Point in an April Westerly News article and immediately wrote to TLC’s director of operations John Shields expressing her concern.

Shields wrote back to Warner acknowledging her frustration.

“TLC found itself borrowing money to save properties and to protect endangered heritage places or properties important to conserve for their ecological importance,” he wrote. “In the

economic downturn of a few years ago, donations fell off and TLC found itself with mortgages, suppliers, and even staff that it could not afford to pay except by more borrowing.”

He suggested the TLC’s debt had been hidden, growing to unmanageable proportions by the time the board realized its financial dire straits.

“There were only two choices, go into bankruptcy or attempt to pay creditors through a combination of donations and property sales.”

He said bankruptcy would have led to the

TLC’s properties being sold at auction for “pennies on the dollar” and assured the TLC will strive to ensure the properties it does sell will be preserved by the new owners.

He said there is no immediate plan to sell Monks Point.

“We are exploring possibilities that will meet the expectations of the Supreme Court judge who is overseeing the payment of creditors and the Board’s intention to find the best possible situation for Monks Point,” he wrote.

As the TLC considers whether to sell Monks Point, the district of Tofino is considering its own course of action and recently published the results of a district circulated survey.

“The district of Tofino could conceivably purchase the property, and that was one reason why we asked community members how they feel about such a purchase,” said Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne.

The survey was circulated from March 29 to April 13 and 204 responses were received; 178 were filled out by local Tofitians.

A whopping 92 per cent of

responders said they supported the preservation of Monks Point and 74 per cent said they were in favour of Tofino acquiring the property but only 26 per cent supported raising the funds through taxation.

Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne told the Westerly News the results informed Tofino council’s discussions in two key ways.

“First, there was overwhelming support for the preservation of the property for public use, and second, community members raised very valid concerns and suggestions about the District’s possible involvement. The latter especially improves Council’s deliberations and decision-making.”

Osborne noted the survey’s 204 responders represent over 10 per cent of the community’s population but said a grain of salt should be served with the responses.

“All surveys contain bias in their questions and methods, and they are just one way of gauging public opinion,” she said “This survey’s results need to be taken with those sources of bias

in consideration. For example, people who feel most passionately about saving the property likely felt more incentive to respond to the survey.”

She said she was not surprised by the survey’s results.

“I expected most respondents to be in favour of preserving the property in some manner, and I expected there to be varied opinions on who could be the property’s next owner and how funds could be raised to purchase and operate the property,” she said.

“I also expected statements of absolute outrage that we could even be in this position where a property is donated in good faith to an organization that now is considering selling it to service debts created by the management and purchase of other properties.”

She said the district has not planned any further community consultation on the matter and is still mulling over their next steps.

The full results of the survey are available on the district’s website at www.tofino.ca.

reporter@westerlynews.ca