Victims of a landslide threatening homes on McConnell Crescent in Terrace have filed lawsuits claiming negligence by the city during the building of properties now at risk of sliding down a steep slope into the Kitsumkalum River behind them.
Also named as a defendant is a local developer now called Blanken Holdings, that owned the land where the erosion started, having subdivided the parcel of land where the homes were built and then put up for sale.
Plaintiffs David and Amanda Horvath thought they had found their ‘dream home’ after buying a house at 5412 McConnell Crescent 10 years ago but now live in fear, as the river’s steep bank edges closer.
Neighbours Sudarshan and Kashmir More are also suing. The couple can’t live at home since the landslide took out their backyard, leaving sewage pipes exposed to the elements.
As of 2021 the river had moved about one kilometre over the course of 80 years and the city estimated erosion causing landslides would continue. Property owners asked for urgent financial help from the city.
Last November the province awarded nearly $2.5 million for the city to fix the landslide and protect its infrastructure, with a start time for that work hinging on permit approvals and contractor availability.
Amanda Horvath said her family and neighbours are happy to see that steps are being taken by the city to stabilize the slope behind their homes, adding that how they move forward will depend on their losses.
Vancouver lawyer Jeff Scouten, who represents the Horvaths and the Mores, estimates “several hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses” to the homeowners after the landslide is contained.
“They will have lost some of their land and there will be a significant stigmatization of the properties, their value is going to be significantly affected.
“The city has also said that the remediation costs won’t cover the cost of rebuilding the septic fields.”
The landslide was foreseeable, Scouten argued. And the developer should have been proactive in dealing with a situation “lying in plain sight,” that got worse over time. Another factor has been the known migration of the Kitsumkalum River over time.
“Maybe 10 years ago or so, it sort of broke off from its original existing channel and went over to the tow of the slope. So it started eroding at the bottom of the slope there.”
The plaintiffs say the city’s fault lies in having allowed digging on both properties within a 20 metre area from the crest of the slope against the advice of a geotechnical engineers.
“Somebody appeared to have dropped the ball in the approval process… There was excavation well within what the geotechnical engineer had identified as a required setback area,” Scouten said.
The city declined to comment and the developer has so far been unreachable.
Scouten stressed that his clients are hopeful for a solution, having filed the claims to preserve their right to seek compensation, adding that other options like expropriating the properties have been suggested to the city before.
“While lawsuits sometimes can be seen as acts of aggression or criticism, it shouldn’t be seen as a blanket condemnation,” he added. But the city’s plans to fix the landslide, while commendable, won’t make the families whole again.
“It’s to the city’s credit that it has taken the initiative of pushing this forward and getting this funding. The lawsuit is just to make sure, once the dust settles, that there’s recourse for anything left behind.
“There will inevitably be some uncovered costs.”
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