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Seawatch residents urged to lawyer up

Seawatch residents urged to lawyer up

Sechelt Mayor Bruce Milne is urging residents of the sinkhole-prone Seawatch neighbourhood, “to seek independent legal advice” and consider joining a class-action suit, as District Council prepares to decide whether to try to fix the problem or condemn the subdivision altogether.

But not all residents feel that resorting to litigation is the right move, with one homeowner suggesting that the Council is being “manipulated” by its lawyers.

Milne read a carefully worded statement at the Dec. 2 Council meeting, saying that years of studies and reports provide no “certainty in the way of a permanent solution for the [sinkhole] problem.”

At least three large sinkholes have developed in the past few years in the subdivision on Sechelt Inlet in the northwest part of the District—two of them last February, forcing Erin and Ross Storey and their three children to flee their damaged home. The Storeys do not expect ever to be able to move back into the abandoned Gale Ave. North property and have named 32 defendants in a lawsuit, including the District and the developer.

Milne said the Storeys’ lawyer was considering inviting the owners of the 14 homes affected to join a class action, which he said would enhance the prospect of “reaching a mutually satisfactory omnibus solution.”

However, in an interview with The Local, Seawatch homeowner Mike Paddison said that assertion was incorrect. Paddison said he was contacted Dec. 3 by the Storey’s lawyer, who said, “’We don’t know why the District said we’re [organizing a class action] because it isn’t true.’”

Paddison also criticized this Council and previous District Councils over the past several years for “doing nothing” to seriously assess and fix the subdivision’s underground problems.

“Every time they get advice from their consultants they dig in their heels and say, ‘Oh my God, we can’t afford this,’” Paddison said. “They haven’t taken even one of their consultants’ recommendations and run with it.”

Paddison said that rather than spend a few hundred thousand dollars on learning more about the problem, the District is ready to go to its insurers, “and have them spend $10 million or $20 million buying everybody out. That’s not sound economics.”

Milne said he still wants to have a promised, but now delayed meeting with the homeowners.

“I think Council—before it makes its final decision—should hear from those residents in terms of what they think options are,” the mayor said.

Paddison said he looked forward to the meeting and that he bears no grudge against the current council, adding that he thinks “they’ve been manipulated into this position.”

He acknowledged that the Storeys’ home and perhaps some others are under threat of more sinkholes, but said that bore-hole tests on his property have determined his house sits on “extremely hard soil.”

“We spent eight years finding this house. We live in the most beautiful place on Earth,” said Paddison. “I’m not going to move away without a battle.”   Rik Jespersen

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