Old Fort residents file landslide lawsuit

A group of Old Fort residents have filed a lawsuit claiming damages from two landslides in 2018 and 2020.

In a press release Tuesday, lawyer Malcolm Macpherson, who represents the 35 residents, says property values have "evaporated" following the landslides, which both destroyed the only road in and out of the community for weeks at a time.

"The Old Fort Residents have endured over two years of anxiety and sleepless nights as the Province and others have conducted multiple inconclusive studies to try to determine the cause of the slides, which purportedly remains unknown,"  Macpherson said in a statement. "This case is about the ongoing loss of land stability, the loss of road access and the corresponding total loss of value to the homes."

Residents were first cut off by the same landslide in September 2018, and again in June 2020 after more than 50 mm of heavy rain drenched Fort St. John and the North Peace region. Two homes above the community and a few in the community remain under evacuation alert.

Macpherson says residents "remain economically impoverished" and resorted to legal action to "to protect their economic and other interests after months of excuses and foot-dragging by the Province of BC to determine the cause of the landslides and implement permanent solutions."

The lawsuit names the province, the Peace River Regional District, the City of Fort St. John, Deasan Holdings Ltd., owners of the gravel pit at the head of the landslide, and BC Hydro.

The allegations have yet to be tested in court. The PRRD, the city, BC Hydro, and Deasan Holdings declined comment, citing the pending litigation.

About 150 residents live in Old Fort, about two kilometres downstream of where the Site C dam is under construction. 

A report from B.C.'s chief inspector of mines late last year said the root cause of the slide remains inconclusive. Whatever changes occurred before the 2018 slide, the report says it was enough to change the condition of a marginally stable Peace River Valley slope, resulting in the slide.

At an emergency meeting last summer, residents said they were concerned about the long-term liveability of Old Fort and their property values. They were also concerned about a lack of emergency planning from the regional district, and lack of transparency from the province.

Provincial officials told residents at the time there was no guarantee the community would be safe from future landslides, and that any engineered fix to the unstable slopes was unlikely.

Macpherson said the impacted residents are hard-working families that support responsible industrial development. But he said continued development and permitting in the area will undermine soil stability at the expense of the community.

"It is also about the alleged negligence, nuisance, and breach of the home owners’ right to soil support by the defendants," said Macpherson. "If permits are being issued and industrial activity around them impairs the slope stability of their community, rendering their family homes unsellable and un-mortgageable, they expect to be made whole."

"The Province of BC is spending billions of dollars to construct the Site-C Dam for the benefit of all British Columbians but has so far shown little interest in spending what is necessary to keep the Old Fort plaintiffs and their families safe, economically whole, and with reliable access in and out of the community," he said.

This is a developing story.

Old Fort Landslide - Litigation Fact Sheet by AlaskaHighwayNews on Scribd

Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at editor@ahnfsj.ca.

[Eds. note: Article updates to include supplied litigation summary sheet; response from PRRD, City of Fort St. John, BC Hydro, Deasan Holdings.]

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