The latest court filings in the lawsuits over the Seawatch subdivision in Sechelt show the province has earmarked money to support a plan to reopen access to the neighbourhood, at least temporarily, after it was evacuated in February over mounting concerns about the risk of sinkholes.
The information about the provincial funding is contained in the government’s response to lawsuits filed in August by the owners of eight Seawatch properties.
Among the claims made against the province in those court actions is that the ministry of public safety has been enabling the District of Sechelt to misuse emergency powers by approving continual extensions of the state of emergency declared just prior to the evacuation.
The impact of the state of emergency is also part of the claim in earlier lawsuits by two other homeowners, who say the inability to return has caused stress and financial hardship.
In a response filed Oct. 31, the province’s lawyers say the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General has relied on technical reports and situation reports from the District of Sechelt and “acted in good faith” when approving extensions.
In one of her last public statements on the Seawatch evacuation before saying there would be nothing further because of the legal situation, Mayor Darnelda Siegers said the district would continue working with the province on “a plan for the future of the site which could include temporary access for property owners to retrieve possessions.”
That was in April, and according to the new court documents, the province committed to funding “safe re-entry” just three months later.
“On or about July 18, 2019 the province advised the district that the province had approved funding to permit the safe re-entry into the Seawatch subdivision,” the court filing says. “Subject to the district’s submission of a decommissioning plan for the subdivision that, inter alia, demonstrates all public safety issues are being resolved.”
However, the province’s response also says the District of Sechelt noted in a recent request to extend the state of emergency and that, “the risk of new sinkholes appearing was unpredictable, making it difficult to plan access for potential site remediation and removal of valuable property.”
In its response to the lawsuits, which was also filed Oct. 31, the district denies extensions of the state of emergency are an abuse of power and says the ministry has approved the extensions “on the basis that an emergency exists due to ongoing risks that require continued use of the emergency powers.”
The district’s response makes no mention of the provincial funding or whether it is currently working to prepare a plan that would meet the ministry’s conditions.
Sechelt communications manager Julie Rogers told Coast Reporter the district is still working with the province and engineering consultants “to possibly provide limited access to the site by a limited number of property owners as well as developing a plan for the future of the site.”
In an Oct. 1 letter to Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth, Green leader Andrew Weaver pointed out residents’ frustration. “The residents have been told that a plan is coming, but have seen no new information in months from any level of government.”