Sinkholes are opening up in Seawatch, a high-end neighborhood of Sechelt, British Columbia, Canada for the past few years, resulting in the declaration of a local state of emergency and evacuation of 14 homes. The neighborhood's developer allegedly failed to communicate the sinkhole risk and is now being sued by several homeowners.
The Seawatch subdivision was built by a private developer, Concordia Seawatch Ltd, who purchased the property in 2004 as part of a larger site that was in foreclosure proceedings, Sechelt authorities said, adding that the site was developed with a geotechnical report from qualified professional addressing (among other things) the issues of soil and slope stability.
In 2006, the developer's geotechnical engineer issued a report that recorded sinkholes had developed and set out how the infrastructure should be designed.
While it's not clear how the developer approached this issue, it's evident sinkholes continued opening and have now resulted in the complete evacuation of the neighborhood.
The first major sinkhole opened on Seawatch Lane in June 2012 followed by another large sinkhole in February 2015 which damaged one of the residences to the point where the owners could no longer continue to live there.
At approximately the same time, Gale Avenue North was also undermined. There was further deterioration in the condition of Gale Avenue North in early 2018, and part of the road has been closed to vehicle traffic. In September 2018, another sinkhole appeared on one of the remaining undeveloped lots and another one in December.
Following a geotechnical report from Thurber Engineering, which concluded that the risk of damage to property, injury or was too great to allow people to remain in their homes, the entire neighborhood was placed on evacuation alert (on February 7).
"Future sinkholes or landslides could damage existing infrastructure such as underground utilities, roads or sidewalks, or private property including buildings and retaining walls," says the engineering report commissioned by the district. "Injury or even death are possible consequences."
"I can't believe we're never coming back here," says one homeowner forced to leave their home because of dangerous sinkholes. @raffertybaker spoke to residents in Sechelt, where multiple sinkholes have created grave safety concerns.https://t.co/BHCZDrokyA pic.twitter.com/kD2dZBW3wO— CBC British Columbia (@cbcnewsbc) February 15, 2019
Sechelt mayor said it's too early to say if the homes can ever be made safe to live in again.
"We are checking all kinds of avenues," she said. "We have to assume, and this is what we've conveyed to the residents, that as of one o'clock Friday we don't know whether or not there will be an access back in there ever."
Emergency Social Services opened at the Seaside Centre at noon Friday to register residents to receive food, lodging, clothing and 'emotional support' for 72 hours from the time of the evacuation order.
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said the residents should not expect any other compensation from the province, which is also the position the province took in 2015 when there was a request for disaster financial assistance after one of the sinkholes forced a family to abandon its home.
"It was determined that damages incurred are related to the pre-existing geotechnical challenges. As such, this incident cannot be attributed to a sudden catastrophic event as is required by the legislation," Farnworth said.
Lawsuits against the developer, its contractor, engineering firms, home warranty provider, real estate agents and the district are in progress.
Featured image credit: Google