Editorial: Sechelt digging a deeper hole on Seawatch

Despite the ongoing news blackout on the evacuated Seawatch neighbourhood, Coast Reporter’s Sean Eckford was able to squeeze out a line from the District of Sechelt this week.

The terse statement was a response to an important revelation found in court documents filed on Halloween by the province – that on July 18 the district was advised that the province had approved funding to allow “safe re-entry” to the site.

The purpose of re-entry, apparently, would be to “plan access for potential site remediation” and “removal of valuable property” by residents who were evacuated from the sinkhole-plagued subdivision on Feb. 15. Funds would only be released, however, “subject to the district’s submission of a decommissioning plan for the subdivision that … demonstrates all public safety issues are being resolved.”

Asked if such a plan is actually happening, and if so what stage it’s at, the district’s communications manager wrote back: “The District is working closely with the Province and engineers to possibly provide limited access to the site by a limited number of property owners as well as developing a plan for the future of the site.”

When contacted, the province simply confirmed that the District of Sechelt had not yet submitted a plan to decommission the site.

Jeff Scouten, the lawyer representing the owners of eight Seawatch properties, said they had “heard indirectly” that the province may come up with funds for re-entry, calling it “a sign that discussions of some sort at least are underway.” He added that “so far, however, neither the District or the Province has shown any outward willingness to bring the parties together to work out an overall solution. My clients are continuing to press hard for that to occur and we’ll see where that goes.”

In an earlier note, Mr. Scouten had flagged the province’s third-party notice against the district and other parties, observing that it “alleges in rather blunt terms that the District was aware of the history of geotechnical problems associated with the site when approving the development, and claims the District is at fault for the problems that have arisen.” And that summary is putting it mildly, as the province’s notice of claim alleges the district “improperly approved” the subdivision and “failed to conduct proper inspections” or “properly review engineering reports” or “follow appropriate recommendations from geotechnical professionals.”

None of that has been proven in court, but in the event it is found to be liable for any claims, the province has signalled its readiness to throw the district completely under the bus. Yet the district is working with the province while freezing out the Seawatch residents, many of whom filed suit only recently and with great reluctance, despite prodding from the district to pursue a class action four years ago.

The district’s high-handed, low-information approach could end up guaranteeing the matter proceeds to court, where its adversarial stance will cast it in the most unfavourable light possible.

As bad as this mess is, the district seems to be digging itself in deeper.

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