Some residents forced from the division of the Sunshine Coast nearly three years ago are celebrating a small victory, although there is little hope that the problem that led to their rapid displacement will be resolved.
Sechelt County issued a local emergency in February 2019 and ordered residents of dozens of homes to evacuate the Seawatch subdivision after erosion and sewage pits made the Porpoise Bay community unsafe.
The county has since extended that state of emergency 138 times.
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Neighbors Carol Roswall, Gregory and Geraldine Latham have taken the county to court over repeated extensions, arguing that “government actions have thrown them into uncertainty.”
On Tuesday, a British Columbia Supreme Court judge ruled that the province must compensate the two families about $200,000 in accommodation and other expenses accrued since then.
Judge Jeffrey Gomery ruled that while the initial state of emergency was justified, its repeated and indefinite extensions were not.
Seychelles homeowners have been hit hard by declining valuations
Gomeri ruled: “In this case, the continued renewal of (the local state of emergency) provided a pretext for inaction on the part of the district and county.”
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“There appears to have been no incentive for anyone to take steps to address the geotechnical instability of the subdivision while it remains subject (the local emergency) and under evacuation order. Nor have steps been taken to decommission the subdivision.”
Concerns about sewage in the area stretched back more than a decade but escalated in December 2018 when a new ditch opened on Christmas Day and an engineering report recommended a “precautionary closure” of the neighborhood, warning of grave dangers.
Many displaced residents have now been left in the difficult position of paying rent for a new home while still in a bind of obtaining a mortgage on their uninhabitable property.
Real estate in this Sechelt BC neighborhood was worth over $1 million. They now cost $2
“In short, you could call these three years of suffering. Ex-Resident Rod Joy, who was involved in a separate lawsuit against Sechelt County and the county on this issue, said, “There have been growing expenses, losses and damages, I think, and they are increasing every day.”
“We haven’t heard a word from Seychelles or British Columbia since all of this happened.”
When Seawatch was evacuated, many homes were valued at $1 million or more. Non-inhabitable properties were assessed by BC Valuation in 2022 at just $2: $1 for land and $1 for a house.
The law firm representing the homeowners in their successful lawsuit is now pressing the county and Seychelles County to sit down with the homeowners and negotiate a fair settlement to avoid what appears to be years of wrangling in court.
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