Several residents of Seawatch were making preparations Friday morning to leave their homes after a meeting with District of Sechelt officials at which they were given notice that the neighbourhood was on evacuation alert.
As of Friday evening, the district had no immediate plans to move to an evacuation order.
The evacuation alert followed the latest report from Thurber Engineering, which has been overseeing the monitoring of sinkhole activity in the area.
Thurber's report, dated Feb. 6, recommended the “precautionary closure” of the neighbourhood.
The report was distributed to property owners Feb. 7, although Thurber makes it clear that the concerns and recommendations were communicated to the district on Feb. 1.
The report concluded that “the probability of sinkhole collapse is evidently high and is anticipated to increase with time” and that “we recommend that the District no longer allow occupancy of the public and private properties and buildings within the Phase 1 site.
“The high hazard of sinkhole collapse in combination with the consequences of potential injury or death result in a high, and in our opinion, unacceptable level of risk to the public.”
The engineering firm is also recommending “proactive closure of the remaining open sections of public roadway within the Phase 1 site.”
Thurber also claims in the report that its recommendations for sinkhole risk management have not been implemented by the district.
Some residents who were at a meeting with district officials Thursday night told Coast Reporter that they were given notice of the evacuation alert, covering the 14 currently occupied homes in the subdivision, just as the meeting got underway.
The text of the alert reads: "Geotechnical instability in the Seawatch Concordia Subdivision has resulted in multiple sinkholes. Because of the potential danger to life and health, the District of Sechelt has issued an evacuation alert for the following areas: 6629 to 6689 Gale Avenue North and 6644 to 6649 Seawatch Lane... residents will be given as much advance notice as possible prior to evacuation."
Mayor Darnelda Siegers went to the subdivision to talk to residents Friday afternoon, as new barricades to completely block entry to Seawatch from both Gale Avenue North and Crowston Road were being put in place.
Siegers described the decision to issue the alert as "tough", and she said the district hoped to be able to hold off on issuing an evacuation order until late next week, but "an evacuation order will be coming."
"We want to make sure we have all the pieces in place. We also are very concious of the impact of this on the residents," she said. "It's on compassionate grounds that we are postponing this at this point, but we also communicated very clearly to all the residents that if something else happens between now and when we would put an evacuation order in place they will have very short notice."
Emergency Social Services will be available to aid the residents with temporary accommodation for 72 hours and the district is looking at other ways it can help.
Siegers said the district has brought in former Sunshine Coast Emergency Program coordinator Bill Elsner to assist. "He's helping us access those types of services." She also said efforts continue to get additional support from the province.
"We're going to keep doing what we need to do to provide what ever kind of support we can to residents of this community."
Later in its report, Thurber offers suggestions for temporary structures to make limited access to the closed portions of Seawatch Lane and Gale Avenue North as safe as possible, “so that residents may move items and vehicles in or out of the affected area as they choose", but goes on to say, “implementation of our site occupancy recommendations should not be delayed.”
It's not clear if any of those steps will be taken.
The full Thurber report can be viewed here: http://www.sechelt.ca/Portals/0/public document library/Committees/Seawatch Files/2019-02-06 Thurber_Sinkholes at The Shores Phase 1_11680.pdf?ver=2019-02-07-132112-023
The evacuation alert is posted here.