Evacuation preparations continue at Seawatch

Residents of Sechelt’s Seawatch neighbourhood continue preparing to leave their homes as they anticipate an evacuation order that could come on Friday, if not earlier.

The District of Sechelt put the 14 homes in the subdivision on evacuation alert late Feb. 7 on the advice of engineers who’ve been monitoring sinkhole activity in the neighbourhood and the district’s lawyers.

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Sechelt Mayor Darnelda Siegers said last Friday that an evacuation order “will be coming” but the district is holding off on “compassionate grounds.”

Delaying the order also came with conditions. An email sent to residents said, “The advice we have received from our geotechnical engineers makes it clear that the present situation qualifies as an emergency, and must be treated as such,” and went on to say that residents must ensure minors were “evacuated immediately” and that “any adult residents who choose to spend time in their homes acknowledge that they have been advised of the risk of doing so, and are doing so at their own risk.”

Siegers confirmed in an email to Coast Reporter that the condition about minors was included because “minors cannot waive liability and their parents cannot waive it on their behalf [so] we are required to pass on to the residents the information as provided to us.”

Access to the subdivision is now completely cut off by concrete barriers at Gale Avenue North and Crowston Road, leaving residents to find their own ways to move their belongings hundreds of metres to where they can park. They’re still waiting to find out if anything can be done to temporarily reinforce the roads to allow them to bring in trucks for furniture, appliances, pianos and other heavy items.

Seawatch homeowner Elliott Held said he feels very safe in their house and his family plans to stay as long as they can, even after an evacuation order comes down.  He said as dog owners they’re finding it hard to get a temporary rental place. “And, what there is for rent, we can’t afford – so we’re still looking,” he said.

Held also said he and his neighbours have been overwhelmed by the community response, including a number of people who went to Seawatch over the weekend with offers of help.

“It’s just been unbelievable how generous people are with their time, with food, with coffee. Just incredible,” Held said.

Down at the end of the road, Kevin Pickell spent some of Monday shuttling small loads out to the barricades using a lawn tractor. 

“On Saturday and Sunday we had tonnes of people helping but, of course, everyone’s back to work now,” Pickell said, adding that some residents have asked the district to give them one more weekend. “That gives us two extra days of other community members being able to come here [to help]… I can understand them not wanting to extend it another week and another week, but if they could extend it those two extra days that would be a major thing.”

Rod Goy also said Seawatch residents were grateful for the response of community members who went to the neighbourhood on Saturday and Sunday.

“On Saturday I met so many people who were just wandering around asking what they could do,” Goy said. “People bringing huge jugs of coffee, people going and helping some of the older folks or people who couldn’t get out. The community rallying behind us has been incredible and something we’ll never forget.”

There have also been offers of places to stay in the short term and places to store their belongings.

Goy said they’re less impressed with what they see as a lack of help from the district.

“There are certain things they can do that’s within their power,” he said. “There should have been an army of people here. There should have been RCMP or somebody to handle the traffic, move some of those barriers and let us get our stuff, get a road plowed so that people aren’t walking up at the risk of falling and breaking their neck. The list goes on and on.”

Donna Goy said the couple will be staying for a while with their son, but others are still not sure what they’ll do when a full evacuation order is issued.

“Families are being split apart. Our neighbour’s child had to go live one place, their dog had to go live another, their cat had to go live another. It’s cruel, because it was all preventable,” she said. “I’d like to thank the community of Sechelt for supporting us and our neighbours with all the love and caring comments… Shame on the district for putting us through all of this.”

Rod Goy said the focus for many of the residents is now on the immediate concerns of managing an evacuation, but calls for someone to be held accountable continue.

Two property owners have lawsuits pending that are due to be heard in B.C. Supreme Court in 2020, and another Seawatch resident launched a petition last month calling for the provincial government to hold a public inquiry into how the development could ever have been allowed to proceed in the first place.

As of Monday afternoon, it had more than 1,100 signatures.

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