Sechelt declared a local state of emergency and issued an evacuation order for the Seawatch subdivision on Feb. 15. The declaration and order were made due to ongoing subsurface instability impacting 6629 to 6689 Gale Avenue North, 6644 to 6649 Seawatch Lane as well as 6453 and 6450 Crowston Road.
“We hope residents put the lives of their families first and comply with the order as quickly as possible. We regret having to take this action but we did so to prevent serious injury or loss of life,” said Sechelt Mayor Darnelda Siegers.
On Dec. 25, a 25-metre-deep sinkhole surfaced on a vacant lot adjacent to Seawatch Lane. The subdivision had experienced ground instability and undermining of road beds since 2012. The appearance of the latest sinkhole prompted Sechelt to re-evaluate the risk to residents. In early January, it closed road access within the subdivision and contracted Thurber Engineering to assess the site. Thurber’s Feb. 6 report stated that there is a very high probability of at least one sinkhole collapse each year based on the recent history of the site. It also noted that future sinkholes or landslides could damage existing infrastructure such as underground utilities, roads or sidewalks, or private property including buildings and retaining walls. Injury or even death are possible consequences. Sechelt then issued an evacuation alert and notified area residents.
Through Emergency Management BC, Sechelt arranged for monitoring the security of the evacuated area. It arranged for emergency social services to be available to impacted residents for period of 72 hours after the evacuation order.
Evacuation is a step that local government would need to take to close the subdivision. Most of the 14 families forced out removed all that they could from their homes. Owners of homes in the impacted area are now faced with a financial situation of being unable to recover the money they invested in these properties. Some are continuing to pay mortgages on those homes, which they cannot sell or live in. At the same time, they face the costs of securing and setting up new homes. Requests for compensation for these losses have been made to the District and others. Two owners have filed legal claims.
“Staff have been working hard to try to find some assistance for the families through provincial or federal programs. So far unsuccessfully, but we keep asking.,” said Julie Rogers, Sechelt’s communications manager.
In a statement issued Feb. 12, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth, indicated that additional provincial assistance to the impacted homeowners was unlikely, as the damage to the area is related to the pre-existing geotechnical challenges.
When the alert changed to an impending evacuation order, there were multiple calls to help the residents with moving. This was followed by an outpouring support from individuals and businesses in the community. Unusually cold and snowy weather that began on Feb. 3 complicated the move-out process.
In a post on the Help Seawatch Facebook site, Seawatch homeowner Ed Pednaud stated “I found out over the last week that Sechelt is not the District. They are separate. Sechelt is kind, compassionate, caring people who live, work and play here. I have been the recipient of generosity that will take a lifetime to pay forward.”
Area resident Herb Barge wrote “The turn-out to help was truly exceptional. More people, trucks and food than anyone expected. Never the less, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. The true spirit of the people of Sechelt was here in full force.”
Irene Pickell, Seawatch resident posted “My greatest fear is that after Friday, we will no longer be the news story of the day. Please do not forget what has happened here. It is wrong on so many levels.
For those who want to show their support for the impacted residents, there is a petition on change.org calling for a public inquiry into why the subdivision was permitted to be built. As of Feb. 17, it had been signed by over 1,600 people.
Local realtor Gina Stockwell has set up a campaign on fundrazr.com. The purpose is to help ease the burden of short term costs on evacuees. Funds raise are to be used for renting storage space, moving expenses, providing a few months of rent and utility payments, living expenses while looking for work, etc. The campaign has a goal of $50,000. As of Feb. 17, close to $8,000 had been committed.
An online “Go Fund Me” page to benefit the evacuees was opened by The Lighthouse Pub on Feb. 14, with a goal of raising $100,000. This business, now under new ownership, was once part of the holdings of Ron Davis. Davis was also involved in the company that developed the Seawatch subdivision.