British Columbia

Homeowners near Site C project sue after landslides wiped out property values

Thirty-five homeowners in the small B.C. community of Old Fort — just south of Fort St. John — are suing the province and BC Hydro after two landslides they claim were caused by Site C dam construction rendered their properties worthless. 

Plaintiffs say the construction project has led to slope instability and two landslides in 2018, 2020

Two landslides near Old Fort — one in 2018 and one in 2020 — blocked the only road to and from the community. (Marten Geertsema/B.C. Ministry of Forests and Lands via The Canadian Press)

Thirty-five homeowners in the small B.C. community of Old Fort — just south of Fort St. John — are suing the province and BC Hydro after two landslides they claim were caused by Site C dam construction rendered their properties worthless. 

On Monday, the group filed a notice of civil claim in B.C. Supreme Court saying the excavation activities carried out by BC Hydro on the $10-billion dam project have destabilized the soil that supports their properties.

The first landslide, which happened in September 2018, damaged the only road that provides access in and out of Old Fort and put the entire community under evacuation for a month. Another landslide damaged the same road in June 2020.

The homeowners also accuse Deasan Holdings of causing soil instability with mining activities near Old Fort. 

Malcom MacPherson, lawyer for the plaintiffs, says the families involved cannot sell, mortgage or insure their homes because there is no property value. He says they support industrial development but don't feel they should pay for it with their homes' worth.

"They shouldn't be de facto subsidizing the broader wealth creation, which is good for the whole province," he said. "It's not fair that they have to unreasonably bear that burden."

In October, the B.C. government posted a report saying despite geotechnical assessments, the root cause of the slide in 2018 remains "inconclusive." The report doesn't address the slide in 2020.

About 200 residents were forced from their homes after the landslide in September 2018. (Jeff Garrison)

In 2018, BC Hydro said there was no evidence the slide was related to the Site C project.

Last week, Premier John Horgan said Site C dam construction would continue while his office awaits geotechnical reports written by experts from outside B.C. 

The lawsuit names the province and the Peace River Regional District for approving the construction work of BC Hydro and Deasan Holdings. They are also suing the City of Fort St. John for operating a sewage lagoon they claim has led to soil instability in the Peace River community.

None of the five defendants has responded in court. 

CBC News has contacted the City of Fort St. John, the Peace River Regional District and BC Hydro. The municipality didn't respond, and the other two parties declined to comment.

With files from Andrew Kurjata, Maryse Zeidler and Canadian Press

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