Jun 15, 2012 / 5:00 am
Vineyard owner John West was preparing to fertilize his grapevines on a June day two years ago when he heard the sound of boulders tumbling down the nearby creek.
Moments later he and his dog Jessie were on the run as a river of rocks, mud, water and trees flowed across his property and those of his neighbours in a rural area just south of Oliver.
“It was surreal and confusing because there was no rhyme or reason to have all that water coming down on a hot sunny day,” he says.
The years since the devastating landslide on June 13, 2010 have been almost as difficult as the day when he lost three acres of grapevines, a shed and vegetable garden.
It was only on Wednesday June 13 that West learned he was being compensated by the provincial government for losses which he estimated to be worth about $250,000.
“Basically we did the cleanup and the replanting and then were told of the compensation,” says West. “The process was painful because the communication wasn’t there.”
Dale Kronebusch, emergency services supervisor for the Regional District Okanagan-Similkameen, said the entire period from the day it began to now has been a painful experience and learning curve for all involved.
On the day of the landslide an earthen dam on the edge of Testalinden Lake failed, sending a torrent of water, mud, trees and a handful of rattlesnakes down the canyon where Testalinden Creek runs.
The river of debris soon picked up and broke apart everything in its path including five homes, several other structures, vineyards and orchards.
The RDOS initially provided food vouchers and assistance to homeowners, until the attorney general stepped in said Kronebusch.
“It has been frustrating for everyone involved more than anything else because usually when a disaster hits it impacts a home or business, here it was homes with businesses attached and some people lost absolutely everything,” he said.
Brian Symonds, director of water stewardship for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations said from the start the government was prepared to compensate the effected parties beyond the limits of normal disaster financial assistance.
Primarily because more could have been done to prevent the slide ahead of time
It has taken longer to help some of the 12 claimants than others because everyone had different circumstances and there was no single answer.
But at this point 10 of the 12 have received payment, he said.
Work has also been done to reconstruct the creek channel and with the dam owner to stabilize the structure. He has since abandoned his license, and once all the claims are completely settled, the government will focus on further dealings with him, said Symonds.
Waiting for the compensation was difficult for Hardeep Khela who sustained about $2 million worth of damage to her orchard and structures on the land.
“This April we were finally compensated after two years of talking, so we replanted our orchard then,” she said. “It was a long wait and the loss of land is hard because land is very expensive here.”
As for West, he is still waiting for an actual cheque to come in the mail, while keeping a close eye on the hills and canyon above his home.
“After you have seen one of those things come through you just think holy smokes,” he says. “Every time it rains, I run over to the creek to see how it’s doing.”
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