City, homeowners battle over LRT damage

Dozens of homeowners living along Edmonton's new south LRT line are battling the city over damage to their homes during construction, CBC News has learned.

Construction cracked foundations, walls, driveways, say homeowners

A.J. Chapelsky points to cracks in his walls and ceilings he believes were caused by construction of the south LRT line. (CBC)

Dozens of homeowners living along Edmonton’s new south LRT line are battling the city over damage to their homes during construction, CBC News has learned.

More than 70 homeowners complained that cracks in foundations, walls and driveways began appearing during months of construction leading up to the opening of the line in April 2009.

Cracks in the walls of A.J. Chapelsky's kitchen. (CBC)

"You could just feel it, in some rooms especially depending on where they were, you could just feel the house was shaking," said A.J. Chapelsky, who lives next to the LRT line in Belgravia.

"Putting two and two together really, no cracks and then all of sudden cracks everywhere, pretty quick time and everyone is having the same problem," said Chapelsky. "I think it's pretty obvious what's going on."

During LRT construction, a crack in George Sim's garage floor grew from the width of a hair to seven centimeters, Sim said.

"It was like thunder"

Crews were behind his house trying to break up an the old road smashing the ground with a tractor hoe, he recalled. 

By the numbers

  • Number of claims:  71


  • Claims denied:      27


  • Claims abandoned:  7


  • Claims settled:      31


  • Claims still open:      4

"It was like thunder close by when the windows rattle and the pictures rattle," said Sims.

But Sim's claim was one of the 27 denied by the city.

"It became apparent that there was no recourse, no compensation, the adjusters that came around told us things like the kind of damage we're talking about would have happened anyway, naturally, and don't worry about it," he said.

The city acknowledged there were challenges with building an LRT line so close to homes, but said it took necessary precautions.

The city hired a vibration expert, had rules in place about how close packing machines could be to houses and used smaller equipment where feasible, said Brad Griffith, in charge of LRT design and construction for the city.

"If you had a vibratory packer three metres away, you may be able to feel it inside the house, but you shouldn't have any damage," he said.

Homes inspected before construction

The city also hired an engineering firm to inspect 132 houses before construction. 

The city's insurer used those inspections to decide how much to offer each claimant.

Chapelski and others were offered much less than they were looking for.

Engineers estimated his home needs $10,000 in work, but the city insisted its share of the repairs was only $2,500, Chapelsky said.

The city claimed most problems in Chalpelsky's home existed before LRT construction, he said.

Even homeowners who settled with the city were frustrated with the process.

No power to bargain, say homeowners

"The insurance adjusters try to sort of twist your arm around to say, ‘No this happened before and here is the engineering report,’" said one man who settled with the city for less money than his repairs cost.

The man cannot be identified because he signed a non-disclosure agreement after settling with the city.

"I don't think I had any bargaining power," he said. "I didn't have $1,000 or $2,000 to go and get my own engineers to verify what they are saying is correct."

The city maintains the compensation process was fair.

"We’ve always tried to deal with the people who have claims in a fair and equitable manner," said city lawyer Mark Young.

"Unfortunately when we've got a project like the LRT, which is a project for the greater public good in the city, a project that is almost inevitably going to impact some people negatively."

With files from CBC's Tim Adams