‘We’ve lost our home and received no compensation for any of this. This is one of the most devastating things we’ve ever gone through.’
Fourteen families in the Seawatch neighbourhood in Sechelt have started moving belongings from their homes as they wait for an order to evacuate due to encroaching sinkholes.
Greg and Gerry Latham — 69 and 67, respectively — had expected to spend their retirement tending the magnificent garden at their $1-million dream home.
Instead, they and their neighbours are putting their possessions into storage, selling family heirlooms and moving in wherever they can find room.
Once they leave, many fear they may never be able to return, leaving them homeless and in many cases still paying a mortgage.
“We are preparing for the worst,” said Gerry. “We are moving in with a young family for two weeks, then we have a friend’s home for the month of March and after that we are searching for a rental.”
Last week, the area was declared by engineers to be a “danger to life and health” due to geotechnical instability, according to the District of Sechelt.
“We’ve lost our home and received no compensation for any of this,” said Latham. “This is one of the most devastating things we’ve ever gone through.”
In the event an evacuation order is issued, emergency social services will provide three nights of accommodation and food vouchers to the people affected, according to the district.
North Gale Avenue and Seawatch Lane are impassable and behind barriers as the soil in the steep, hillside community is literally melting away.
A new depression appeared last September just metres from an occupied home, then on Boxing Day a chasm 12 metres deep opened without warning and an engineer’s report predicts there will be more to come.
“Future sinkholes or landslides could damage existing infrastructure such as underground utilities, roads or sidewalks, or private property including buildings and retaining walls,” the report reads. “Injury or even death are possible consequences.”
Thurber Engineering engineers recommend “proactive ground water management” to limit the spread of sinkholes beyond the affected area. An effective system could halt subsurface erosion and return the site to “relative equilibrium.”
The previous district council declined to build a proposed $10-million drainage system, saying there was no guarantee it would work.
The homeowners’ fight for compensation promises to be long and expensive.
Ross and Erin Storey’s home was condemned after a sinkhole opened up in their front yard in 2015, damaging their foundation.
The Storeys filed suit against the District of Sechelt, the developer Concordia Seawatch, 14 engineering firms, home insurer Travelers Guarantee and five real estate agents, among others. The court date is set for March, 2020.
“I can tell you after four years and $400,000 in legal fees that things are not going well,” said Ross.
“It’s a really sad situation for all those people,” he said. “We’ve been living with this danger for years and now they have a gun to their heads.”
Because of the unprecedented scale of the damage, Greg Latham believes senior levels of government should expropriate the entire neighbourhood and compensate the owners.
“We need to be liberated and paid fair market value for these homes,” he said. “We need compensation and moving costs so we can start our lives over again.”
The properties were purchased in good faith, with occupancy permits issued by the district, he noted.
“Something went terribly wrong and we shouldn’t pay the price for that,” he said.
Engineering studies of the area dating back to 1988 noted the potential for soil instability, but generally concluded the site could be used for dwellings.
However, an assessment by Thurber Engineering noted that wet zones, spontaneous springs and sinkholes developed during site preparation for building in 2008.
In approving the development, the district entered into a covenant in 2008 with Concordia stating that the municipality had no specific knowledge regarding the geotechnical adequacy of the lands.
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