A year after Sechelt’s Seawatch neighbourhood was ordered evacuated over risks to “life and property” from sinkholes, homeowners don’t know if they’ll ever be allowed back in – even temporarily.
BC Assessment has now valued the 14 homes, once worth around $1 million, at a mere two dollars and the legal fallout is just beginning.
Rod Goy and his wife Donna, whose home was on the waterfront along Gale Avenue North, are now in the middle of another move as they prepare to leave temporary accommodation in Sechelt for a home in the Fraser Valley, near their children and grandchildren.
Goy said while he still gets mad once in a while, he’s trying to focus on the big picture of getting some kind of resolution, be that a buyout that allows residents to get on with their lives somewhere else or remediation that enables people to move back.
“It has to be costing [the Seawatch owners] a combined tens of thousands of dollars a month in additional living expenses and we’re not getting any help,” Goy said, adding that the community as a whole has “been pretty amazing” in their support for a quick resolution.
Natural gas service to the abandoned neighbourhood has been cut off, leaving some homes at risk of damage because they can’t be heated. There have also been break-ins and vandalism. Property owners report obvious signs of intrusion into the evacuation zone, including dislodged sections of security fence and tire tracks.
“Our houses continue to be broken into and the district continues to say they’re providing security but they can't give details... People still get in and vandalize our homes – quite frankly it’s a pain in the ass and it’s hurtful,” Goy said.
Ed Pednaud, his wife Rae-dene and their family are still living on the Sunshine Coast and he returns to the evacuation zone periodically to check up on the neighbourhood as do other homeowners, including Elliott Held.
“I come out here a lot – there’s still a lot of things I had to get out that I couldn’t get out during that little period of the move [in February 2019]. It really bothers me still – almost as much as the day we had to move out,” Held told Coast Reporter on a recent walk through Seawatch with Pednaud and other former neighbours Kevin Pickell and Chris Moradian.
“Our hopes and dreams were all tied into this neighbourhood and this house,” Pednaud said. “It’s a remote, remote possibility that we’ll move back in here, but we’d like to be made whole again… In the long run we just want to live our lives free of the stress and the pain of having to deal with Seawatch and the District of Sechelt.”
“I don’t see us ever moving back in,” said Pickell, who’s now living in Davis Bay with his wife Irene. “Even if the district came in and said we can fix it and we will fix it, we’ve lost our resale value. The neighbourhood has a stigma attached to it now, and that stigma will take 40 years to go away.”
“It feels like being thrown on the ground and being continuously kicked,” Moradian, who has since moved to the Lower Mainland with his wife Joanna, said. “I’ve been in business a long time and in business you’ve got gains and losses, you’ve got ups and you’ve got downs, but losing your home – it’s different… It just feels horrible. It’s hard to get over it.”
“There’s an absolute sense of loss of community,” Pednaud added. “We have all been the best of friends… We’ve all been together for some of the bigger moments of all of our lives and that’s lost now.”
The group pointed out that there are no obvious signs of the sinkhole problems getting worse, even at a home on Gale Avenue North that was declared uninhabitable in 2015, and they can’t see any reason the evacuation order is still in place.
“We worked 45 years to be able to retire out here… We spent our retirement money on a house we figured we’d be in until we drop dead, then this happened and there doesn’t seem to be a resolution,” Held said.
Held and his wife Cassie, the Pednauds, the Goys, the Pickells, the Moradians, and three other property owners are working with Vancouver lawyer Jeff Scouten on lawsuits filed last summer that name the province, the District of Sechelt, the developer Concordia Seawatch, several engineering companies involved in the subdivision approvals, and others. Two lawsuits filed in 2015 are now scheduled to go to court in late May.
Scouten said following the BC Assessment decision to devalue the properties his clients’ lawsuits have been expanded to include new claims against the District of Sechelt for “injurious affection.”
Scouten said under the Community Charter if a municipality exercises a power that negatively impacts the value of a property, there’s a statutory right to compensation and that by continually extending the state of emergency, “[the district] is effectively expropriating the land without any compensation to the owners.”
Scouten said he’s optimistic that if the district and the province are willing a resolution could be months away instead of years.
“Resolutions only happen when parties are willing to come to the table and accept responsibility,” said Moradian. “And to date we haven’t seen that.”
On Tuesday, the District of Sechelt announced the state of emergency is being extended to Feb. 21, 2020 – the 51st consecutive seven-day extension.
Sechelt Mayor Darnelda Siegers declined Coast Reporter’s request for comment, and Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons did not respond before deadline.