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Lawsuits and lost dreams

Greg and Gerry Latham spent Friday morning scrambling to pack up family heirlooms as a series of sinkholes threatened to destroy their dream retirement home in Sechelt.

The Lathams are among 14 families in an upscale seaside neighbourhood under an evacuation order, and they said they didn't know if they would be allowed to return.

"I'm standing in my beautiful home that has absolutely no furniture in it, looking out at the view, the eagles flying by," Gerry Latham said through tears. "I'm just trying to figure out what to leave behind."

Although the sinkhole risk was documented before most of the homes were built, the Lathams said they weren't told about the problem before buying. The situation has sparked lawsuits from several residents.

Sinkholes throughout the Seawatch subdivision prompted the District of Sechelt to order the evacuation. The Lathams said they've been told RCMP would begin enforcing the order at 1 p.m. on Friday.

The homes, with views overlooking Sechelt Inlet, are similar to others in a nearby subdivision valued at over $1 million, although the BC Assessment Authority values most of the buildings in the Seawatch subdivision at zero.

An engineering report issued to the district Feb. 7 says future sinkholes or landslides within the subdivision could damage infrastructure or buildings, and injury or death are possible consequences.

A statement issued by the district says Concordia Seawatch Ltd. built and sold the subdivision despite engineering reports as early as 2006 describing the development of sinkholes.

"The Seawatch subdivision was designed, built, marketed, and sold by a private company. The District of Sechelt cannot accept the argument that when a private sector venture falters, the cost should be borne by the Sechelt taxpayers," the statement said.

After buying the property in 2004, Concordia submitted a geotechnical report before development began, then gave letters of assurance signed by several engineers certifying proper construction of the roads, water and sewer lines, the district said.

It said Concordia's geotechnical engineer issued a report in 2006 documenting sinkholes that had developed and setting out how the infrastructure should be designed.

The company was required to register a restrictive covenant against title to all of the subdivided lots, the district said.

"This means each property owner should have been aware of the geotechnical attributes of the land," it said.

The first major sinkhole to appear after residents moved in was in June 2012. In February 2015, another large sinkhole damaged a home, forcing the owners to move out.

The Lathams said their street began deteriorating early last year, leading to a road closure. In September 2018, another sinkhole appeared on an undeveloped property. The most recent large sinkhole appeared on Christmas Day.

"There is a very high probability of at least one sinkhole collapse each year based on the recent history of the site," an engineering report to the district says.



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