Edmonton

Building ripping in half, power lines breaking in Fort McMurray community

People in Fort McMurray’s Draper community are abandoning their homes as the hill underneath the homes slides, ripping buildings in half and destroying power lines.

'I love the community and the people in the community, but this property? I hate it.'

Susan Smith has been watching her garage separate in the middle for years. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

People in Fort McMurray's Draper community are abandoning their homes, as the hill underneath the homes slides, ripping buildings in half and destroying power lines.

Homeowners in Draper have been struggling with land instability since the 2016 Horse River wildfire. The hill has been sliding, causing structural damage to some homes and creating safety issues. 

Some residents now despise the homes they once loved. 

"I hate it," Susan Smith said as she looked around her three-bedroom home. "I love the community and the people in the community, but this property? I hate it." 

Smith and her husband bought the Draper home, on two acres of land, in 2009. They started noticing problems with the hill in 2017

The garage is ripping in half, the skirting on the house is buckling and the doors and windows on the back of the house won't open.

Smith said they've put in about $100,000 to repair damage and stop the hill from sliding further, but the retaining wall has moved and nothing they do seems to make a difference. 

"You spend every waking minute thinking about what's happening to your property," she said. "It's taxing." 

Smith and her husband bought their home for $775,000 and spent $300,000 more on renovations, including an addition to the garage.

But now, they can't even sell it. Smith has approached real estate agents to put it on the market, but she's been told they won't list it because of the hill instability. She said the home's value has plummeted because of the hill. 

Susan Smith says she can't live in her home full-time anymore because it causes her too much stress. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

The property has become such a strain on her mental health, she can't live full-time in the home. She goes between Fort McMurray and New Brunswick, only returning to Fort McMurray to see her husband.

She struggles to even drive up to the house because the road leading in is a mess of bumps and potholes. 

"When that's the first thing you see when you drive in, it's disgusting." 

Smith said she's reached out to the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo for help on multiple occasions, but she's never seen any action. 

"I want them to step in and acknowledge that there's issues with the slope and put a game plan together to help the nine properties that are affected," she said. "It's a safety issue."

Trees fall constantly in the back, and she's worried someone could be hit. Trees have landed on her vehicles.

There's a large gap in the middle of Susan Smith's garage where the original building and the addition are separating. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

Gene Hunt just moved out of his house because he felt it was no longer safe. Leaving was "devastating," he said.

Hunt built his home, and was careful to put in large, deep piles so the house would be sturdy. 

But recently the hill shifted significantly, meaning his water, gas and electrical stopped working.

He said it's not worth fixing, because the land will just keep moving. 

Hunt said he's worried the house would lose power or water again in the winter, because that could cause a serious safety concern.

Municipal engineers have been to Hunt's home to look at the land several times, but Hunt said he hasn't seen any action yet. 

Gene Hunt stands next to his toppled retaining wall. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

"We still don't get any feedback from the municipality, of what, if anything, may happen." 

Hunt said he wants the regional municipality to talk to homeowners in the area and help them come up with a solution. 

"Every time I tried to do something on this land to mitigate something, something else comes up," he said.

"It's falling on the top, it's falling on the front of the house. It's falling in the the driveway, the electrical, the propane line, the sewer tanks dropping."

"It's getting to be financially just not viable anymore."

'Safety issue,' councillor says

Coun. Sheila Lalonde said council directed administration to look into the homes in Draper. 

She said any homeowners who are facing issues with their Draper homes should contact the municipality's PULSE line or email her. 

"I think it's a safety issue," said Lalonde. She said in total, she knows of nine homes affected by the sliding hill and the issue is high on her priority list. 

In an email, a spokesperson said the regional municipality is "aware of the slope-subsidence issue."

The engineering and emergency management teams have visited the properties in some cases, the spokesperson said.

"We continue to monitor the slope-subsidence issue in Draper."

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

now