Sechelt sinkhole: Seawatch residents under evacuation alert

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Sechelt sinkhole: Seawatch residents under evacuation alert
Sechelt sinkhole: Seawatch residents under evacuation alert

Fourteen homes in a Sechelt neighbourhood plagued by sinkholes have been placed on evacuation alert by the district.

A new engineering study received by the District of Sechelt this week concluded homes in the Seawatch neighbourhood near a massive new sinkhole are not safe to occupy.

Geotechnical instability has resulted in multiple sinkholes in the area of North Gale Avenue and Seawatch Lane, with “the potential of danger to life and health,” the warning reads.

Residents have been told to get packed and be ready to go.

“The (engineers) basically said that somebody’s going to die,” said district spokeswoman Julie Rogers.

A 25-metre deep sinkhole opened up without warning on or around Boxing Day that was “big enough to swallow a car.” After a drilling investigation, Thurber Engineering recommended that the district should not allow occupancy of the residences in the area.

“… [T]he sinkhole hazard is increasing with time and is not confined to locations where sinkholes have occurred previously,” the Thurber report reads. “There is a very high probability of at least one sinkhole collapse each year based on the recent history of the site.”

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Residents said they were told Thursday evening that an order to evacuate could come as early as Friday afternoon.

Once that order is enacted, residents who leave their homes will not be allowed to return to their homes until the order is lifted, said homeowner Rod Goy.

Neighbours are concerned that once they leave, they may never be allowed to return to their homes, he said.

“We are sitting on pins and needles right now waiting for the other shoe to drop,” said Goy.

Much of the Seawatch area has been closed to vehicle traffic for months because of the subsidence of the roadbeds, leaving homeowners to walk to their homes past large concrete barriers.

The instability of the area has left homeowners with houses that cannot be sold and that could soon be uninhabitable.

One home has already been condemned after a sinkhole opened up under the foundation of the home, leaving the Storey family paying a mortgage on a home they aren’t allowed to enter.

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“We moved here to live in our dream home and now we can’t even go inside,” said Ross Storey. “We are still paying a $450,000 mortgage and property taxes.”

Rod and Donna Goy’s home is not damaged, but they are surrounded by craters, failing roads and broken sewers.

Storey’s efforts to seek compensation have so far failed.

After mediation failed, 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.

Greg and Gerry Latham’s $1-million home is just a few metres from a sinkhole that opened up in 2012, swallowing a car.

“We had an independent appraisal done, but due to the special circumstances they said our house is now worth zero,” said Greg.

The Lathams dropped out of the lawsuit after it became clear they could not hope to recover their loss, because their house is so far undamaged.

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An earlier assessment by Thurber Engineering noted that wet zones, spontaneous springs and sinkholes developed during site preparation for building in 2008.

“These issues were ongoing throughout construction and are documented in the available geotechnical information,” the report 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.

The district has filed suit against Concordia to recover $500,000 in municipal repair costs.

In approving the development, the district entered into a covenant in 2008 with Concordia stating the “Municipality has no specific knowledge and makes no representations or warranties regarding the geotechnical adequacy of the lands for the proposed uses,” according to the District’s notice of civil claim.

Concordia has built and sold 15 homes in Seawatch and holds 14 more empty lots and one empty home that may never be occupied.

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