Seawatch residents unlikely to get disaster financial assistance from province

A statement from Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth suggests residents of Seawatch should not expect any financial help from the province.

Residents of the Sechelt subdivision have been on evacuation alert since Feb. 7 because of ongoing issues with sinkholes in the area. The engineering firm called in to do more geotechnical assessments after a fresh sinkhole appeared on Dec. 25 advised a “precautionary closure” of the neighbourhood.

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When the district announced extended road closures a week earlier, it said Sechelt officials had “contacted MLA Nicholas Simons and Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth to request information on possible assistance for the residents in Seawatch, but have yet to receive a favourable response.”

Asked this week to clarify the province’s position on disaster financial assistance for the people who could lose their homes, Farnworth said nothing has changed since the province last considered the idea in 2015, when one property was deemed unsafe.

“I sympathize with the difficult situation and ongoing uncertainty that residents in Sechelt’s Seawatch development are facing,” Farnworth said in the emailed statement. “The district of Sechelt has obtained a number of geotechnical assessments of the Seawatch Development. These reports identified the formation of sinkholes as an existing risk. The Province played no role in assessing the risk or in approving or denying necessary building permits.”

Farnworth goes on to say that when the province considered a request for disaster financial assistance in 2015, “it was determined that damages incurred are related to the pre-existing geotechnical challenges. As such, this incident cannot be attributed to a sudden catastrophic event as is required by the legislation. The continued formation of sinkholes in the development has not changed this assessment, and reinforces the determination that the sinkholes relate to a known risk when building decisions were initially made. All properties in this development are subject to this identified pre-existing risk.”

The province, through Emergency Management BC, will provide up to 72 hours of emergency social services if an evacuation order is issued. That could include food, lodging, clothing and “emotional support.”

Farnworth also confirmed that the province will pay to have security on site at Seawatch for up two weeks after an evacuation to help protect the properties and any possessions residents have left behind.

“EMBC has recommended the local authority contact the municipal insurance association and reach out to the Insurance Bureau of Canada to see what may be provided to homeowners,” Farnworth said.

Simons also said he is “continuing to explore ways in which the province might be able to assist.”

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