Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Chilliwack Landslide Moves Homes

Most people think of landslides as violent mountain slope events but there is another type that threatens property owners. Geologists call them "big slow movers." These underground land masses can move of their own accord but generally they are prodded into action by changes in the landscape. Case in point: Panorama Heights/ Marble Hill “Big Slow Mover”—City of Chilliwack, British Columbia.

The media reports that 42 existing subdivision homes are threatened by the creeping 4,000 year-old Panorama Heights landslide—3 others were so damaged that they have been razed.

Here is a description of the landslide damage caused to one Panorama Heights home:
Eleven years ago, Dixon had a few cracks to worry about, but now, his house is like something you’d see in an animated Tim Burton movie. The exterior brick walls are pulling and crumbling away from the foundation, the windows are crooked, the carport cement has pulled away from the house, and the steps up to the front door have inched down so far, Dixon had to put in two more steps just to get into his house. Some of his doors fly open at a whim, while others won’t even close half way, the floors are all on a slope, forcing him to walk uphill or downhill, but never on level.

Gary Dixon's Panorama Heights home—
Photos and news report compliments Chilliwack Progress


On October 10, 2009 the Vancouver Sun reported that the City of Chilliwack has offered Panorama Heights homeowners an $18 million purchase plan ( 80% of current assessed value) as compensation for loss of equity and property damage. The offer is extended to Panorama Drive, Ridgeview Street, Ridgeview Place and Allison Place property owners.

Looking Back

Twelve years ago, six Panorama Heights landslide-affected property owners sued the city. In 2006 five plaintiffs agreed to confidentially settle the matter. By searching land title transfers the Chilliwack Progress determined that the city paid $951, 500 for three of the homes at issue in the lawsuit.

Landslide concerns prompted the Chilliwack City Council to pass a 6-month Eastern Hillsides no-build moratorium on September 13, 2004. Reassured by engineering reports, council members rescinded the suspension on October 1, 2004. The moratorium remained in place for the Panorama Heights subdivision.

Mayor Sharon Gaetz has stated that she does not believe the planning department is at fault for granting the Panorama Heights subdivision permit.

Geology Lesson

Garry Taylor, a Chilliwack high school geology teacher, disagrees:
A resource I have used in my classroom to teach my students is a Geological Survey Map of Canada (printed in 1977) that I obtained from the federal government, which is also available to the pubic.

My students are taught that the present site of Panorama Heights sits squarely on this 4,000-year slide site. With this type of information readily available, they find it confusing as to why this development was given the green light to go ahead. Perhaps somebody with the former geo-tech company who did the original stability assessment, or the party who signed off this development at city hall, missed a very important lesson.
City of Chilliwack Hazardous-Land Real Estate Disclosure Statement

Panorama Heights property owners have been ill-served by the city's past actions. If the city elects to continue permitting hazardous-land subdivisions they have an obligation to inform future property owners of the financial risks. Real Estate transactions should include the following fair warning disclosure statement:
Please be advised that you are buying real estate in a critical landslide area.

The decision to buy landslide-hazardous real estate should be well-considered. Flood and fire insurance is available to property owners. Landslide insurance protection is not obtainable. The inability to insure this special-risk real estate will have an adverse effect on property values and mortgage refinancing. Please seek legal advice concerning landslide liability.
Landslides are multi-province concerns but, "In fact, in British Columbia the loss of life and damage to property caused by landslides is greater than losses caused by other natural hazards such as earthquakes and flooding." Findings: Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources

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