Three years after residents were forced to evacuate about a dozen homes in Sechelt, B.C.’s embattled Seawatch subdivision, the local state of emergency has finally been lifted.
It was first declared by the District of Sechelt in February 2019 as erosion and sinkholes made the Porpoise Bay community unsafe for habitation.
It was renewed more than 150 times after that, and several times after a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled that continued state of emergency renewals were unlawful.
“We’re not sure what it actually means at this point in time, other than now, the district has to have a plan of some sort going forward or we assume that they do,” said resident Ed Pednaud.
“Hopefully, it means they’re going to sit down and talk to us for the first time in three years.”
Since the evacuation, a handful of homes in the Seawatch subdivision have remained roped off from the public and residents have had limited access to their belongings.
Property values for some have plummeted from more than $1 million to around $2, according to recent BC Assessment figures, and as homes deteriorate in the elements, some have been broken into and vandalized.
“We have two kids at home and the financial part is unknown, always unknown,” said resident Rae-dene Pednaud.
“We came here because this was our dream.”
B.C. judge rules province must pay displaced Sechelt residents over sinkholes
In January, the province was ordered to compensate two Seawatch families nearly $200,000 for accommodations and expenses accrued since the evacuation.
Neighbours Carole Rosewall and Gregory and Geraldine Latham argued in court that repeated state of emergency extensions had “cast them into a state of limbo.”
Justice Geoffrey Gomery ruled that the initial state of emergency was justified, but repeated and indefinite extensions were not.
“It seems that there has been no incentive for anyone to take steps to address the geotechnical instability of the subdivision while it remains the subject of a (state of local emergency) and under an evacuation order,” said Gomery in his ruling. “Nor have steps been taken to decommission the subdivision.”
The B.C. government is appealing Gomery’s ruling.
The District of Sechelt issued only a brief statement in response to a request for comment on this story.
“The District is considering what steps are to be taken in response to the B.C. Supreme Court decision,” it wrote by email.
Provincial Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said the province is abiding by the court ruling, and has ceased approving state of emergency extensions as no new information to justify them has been provided.
“It’s an awful situation for those homeowners to be in and right now that matter is before the courts,” he said in an interview.
“At the same time though, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs can and is trying to work with the regional district on possible solutions or resolutions to the situation there.”
Judge rules province must pay displaced Sechelt residents
The Pednauds, meanwhile, said they found the state of emergency had not been renewed by local media, rather than through the District of Sechelt or the provincial government.
“They put the fence up, they put the emergency order up and they tried to forget about us,” said Ed. “We’re not going away, this has to be fixed. It has to be resolved in some manner.”
Litigation around the situation has taken its toll on their mental health and savings, he added, but he worries about their kids the most.
“We keep saying we’d like to be made whole, but I don’t know how you make whole six years of your life, how I give my kids back their childhood that we had planned for them,” he said.
“There’s no amount of money that would do that.”
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