Kelowna council approves costly slope repair work

Sara Potton and her husband inherited a costly problem they fear will cause financial devastation.

Kelowna city council unanimously agreed Monday to spend up to $1.2 million from reserve funds to stabilize a slope in a Black Mountain neighbourhood at risk of a landslide, despite sympathizing with residents who will carry the financial burden.

Cracks were discovered in the slope near properies 2045 Loseth Rd. and 2001 Kloppenburg Ct. in 2018, and a geotechnical assessment determined there is a high risk of a landslide.

Residents who live on the properties will have to foot the bill that could ring in at $1.2 million. They asked that remedial action be deferred, but council said that the risks were too high to wait.

Sara Potten is the resident of one of the homes and told council in recent weeks that they will be financially devastated by the cost. As is, they can’t even afford to move from their home and pay for a rental.

They purchased their house in April 2017 with mortgage of around $500,000, and they recently refinanced it for $820,000 to invest in business opportunity.

“Now we have no ability to take equity from (our) home to pay for (fixing the slope,)” she said.

Their business is also not in a position to incur the cost, being that it’s in its early days.

READ ALSO: COUNCIL TO CONSIDER FIXING SLOPE

Potten pointed out the geotechnical report indicated it was land developers and professionals who didn’t do their jobs properly and left them in that position. Further, she said, the city trusted these people to do the work and gave them the go ahead.

Lance Kayfish, director of community safety, said at a community meeting last week to the best of the city’s knowledge, neither of the current owners of two properties living directly next to the slope are responsible for the slope degradation Both have retained lawyers and kept in close contact with city officials with regards to taking civil action to protect their financial interests.

“The forensics of who did what will come out later, as we are still trying to figure out who did what, who knew what and who signed off on what,” Kay said.

“It is not just a case of one person being involved. There are several people involved.”

Residents voiced concerns about the professional certification of engineers who signed off on these geotechnical projects, and the blasting further up the hill on Kirschner Mountain where new home lots are being developed.

“The blasting going on up the hill has to have something to do with this. Sometimes it sounds like a bomb going off,” said one resident.

“If your house is shaking from it then it has to have some impact below the ground as well.”

Kay said at this point in the investigation, the dynamite blasting is not considered a factor in the slope weakening, but it was one explanation that didn’t initially raise consideration.

He said while council has told staff it is a priority to tighten up blasting bylaw restrictions, ultimately approval rests with the province and not at the municipal level.

“But blasting is an issue we hear loud and clear about and we are working to address that,” Kay said.

After the meeting, Kay said input from residents is helpful to city staff in trying to uncover responsibility for the landslide fears.

“Our contractors and our crews are ready to go. The slope is susceptible to a higher risk with the groundwater at the level it is now so we are very concerned about that.”

Through their investigation, the city concluded that the slide might compromise road connections and interrupt gas, electricity and water services to dozens of area residents. Evacuations may be necessary.

The silver lining of acting now, said Kayfish, is that the city can “prevent tragedy before it occurs by making the slope safe.”

Kayfish said the city can’t take on the cost and go about finding compensation from the parties at fault, because it would place the city in the position of being an insurer, setting a dangerous precedent.

So, given the urgency of the situation, the city will do the work, and try to recover costs from the current landowners. The community charter doesn’t allow them to assess blame or go after previous owners.

The city says the total cost of the work could be between $750,000 and $1.2 million.

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