“Are you tilting?” Bernadita Clifford asked.
One step forward inside her home in West Quesnel on Abbott Drive there is the unmistakable tell-tale sign the floors are not level, and a closer look at the walls reveals many cracks Clifford has painstakingly patched and painted over.
Outside isn’t any better where there are foundation cracks large enough for Clifford to put her hand through. The driveway and yard are visibly uneven.
Clifford’s property is located in the West Quesnel Land Stability, an area including 940 parcels of land, 750 homes, an elementary school and several businesses, where a large, ancient landslide underlies.
On Thursday, June 2, she held back tears following a public meeting at Voyageur Elementary School. The latest findings shared by the City indicated there was an average of 84 millimetres of ground movement in 2020 compared to an average of 13 millimetres in the years 2013 to 2019.
Last year there was 67 millimetres of ground movement.
“I need answers,” Clifford said at the meeting, pointing to BC Assessment which valued her home at $199,000, marking an increase of $53,900 from the previous year value.
According to the city, multiple studies have confirmed that West Quesnel sits on a large, ancient, slowly moving landslide with movement linked to annual precipitation and snowmelt conditions.
On Healy Street, Lana Ponting said her home is “destroyed” and has buckled walls and a heaved basement to the point it is unlivable.
“What am I supposed to do with that? Who is responsible? My home wasn’t like that when I got it,” Ponting told the city, noting her property has worsened since 2008.
“Where am I going to come up with the money to repair this when it is still moving? We can’t get help from the city, we don’t get help from the government, we’re screwed with a house that is just sitting there. We’re liable if we keep it empty, we’re liable living in it, we’re liable to rent it, we’re liable if we sell it. What the hell do we do with our properties and homes?”
In paper pamphlets available at the meeting mayor Bob Simpson acknowledged despite investing $17 million to dewater the slide zone, including $7.5 million from city taxpayers, the land continues to move and cause damage to homes and infrastructure.
Since 2018, a system of pumps and drains has been removing water from the ground, with 123 million litres of water removed by the pumping wells in 2020, the most since the program’s inception.
An additional 74 million litres were removed by the horizontal drains.
“In 2020, we saw more land movement than the historical average, due in part to major climate change-induced changes in snowmelt and precipitation in the area,” Simpson noted.
“Unfortunately, we’ll never know what impact the investments we’ve made in dewatering had on reducing the land movement, but we can only assume that the movement would have been more severe if we had not had the dewatering program in place.”
Emergency Management BC concluded no provincial funding is available to reimburse owners with significant property damage.
The city said while it will continue to monitor land movement in the West Quesnel Land Stability area, there are no planned major investments at this time.
The existing de-watering infrastructure will continue to be maintained, and the city anticipates spending $65,000 this year to replace monitoring equipment damaged by land movement. A new storm sewer mainline is planned for Avison Street in 2022, and a major rebuild of the roads and storm sewer for Patchett Street is planned for 2023.
Residents living in the slide area are encouraged to reduce the amount of water entering the ground through water conservation measures, limiting tree cutting, calling for a water shut-off and repair when a leak or break is detected, and diverting rainwater and snowmelt to storm drains through gutters.
“I would like a solution to all the questions that I have,” Clifford said, noting she can do only so many repairs herself after sustaining a severe back injury several years ago.
Clifford said some time ago, a city official told them that the city would buy back their property, and they would be compensated.
Today, she contemplates if it would be worth replacing the carpet in the home she and her husband moved into in 1989.
Her husband passed away from prostate cancer after being diagnosed in 2010.
“It is tough,” she said, doubting she will be able to sell their home, let alone afford a new one.
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