Gunnar Slack believes it was an act of nature that sent the Wanda Sue down the river and into the docks of two neighbouring homes.
Neighbours on Thompson Drive in Valleyview believe it’s a sign the replica sternwheeler needs to be removed from the river — and proof Slack owes them tens of thousands of dollars in compensation for the damage it caused.
According to Slack and neighbour Marlene Crowther, the trouble began in early February, when packed ice created a jam on the South Thompson River, building up pressure behind the Wanda Sue.
Depending on the story told, the boat either broke loose from its moorings or was pushed off them by ice and water. From there, it moved down the river, crashing into two neighbouring docks and, neighbours say, damaging the dike behind their homes.
Jai Hartnell, one of two homeowners whose docks provided a resting place for the Wanda Sue, said the boat and its own still-attached dock snagged on his pilings before taking out his dock.
“It smashed right through it,” he said.
Hartnell said the boat’s presence also forced more river water toward the dike, carving into the soil and creating pockets that could have collapsed the top side of the structure. He said the erosion then took out a set of stairs leading down to the water. He estimates damage to his property at about $20,000.
Arlee Harvey, whose dock was the second to meet the Wanda Sue, said her property suffered another $13,000 in damages.
The two say they want compensation. They also want to see the Wanda Sue removed from the water so it won’t cause more damage.
“If this boat wasn’t here, none of this would have happened,” Harvey said.
Not so, argued Slack.
While his neighbours allege the boat wasn’t properly secured, Slack said he has moored the vessel at his home for nearly 40 years without issue. But, he said, it couldn’t hold up to the extreme force of the ice, which he called an “act of nature.”
“The ice kept building up in front of the boat and the water was just boiling,” he said. “If a person had gone into the water in front of that, they weren’t coming out. You wouldn’t believe the force.”
Nor does Slack believe the damage would have been lessened if the boat wasn’t on the river.
“What people don’t seem to realize is had the Wanda Sue not been there and had my wharf not been there, those two wharves weren’t going to stay,” he said. “They were right in the channel and the packed ice would have come up against them.”
Slack also told reporters he believes the boat protected the bank from further erosion, rather than adding to the problem.
The City of Kamloops is in the process of repairing a portion of the dike behind the Slack, Harvey and Hartnell properties. Public works director Jen Fretz said damage to the dike was bad enough to be considered an “imminent danger” by the province.
While the property isn’t technically the city’s responsibility, Fretz said it is involved in the work so provincial emergency funding can be used.
For the moment, the sternwheeler is moored on Crowther’s pilings, but she said she wants it gone as well because Slack doesn’t have insurance — another point of frustration for Harvey and Hartnell.
Slack said he has no plans to pull the Wanda Sue out of the water. Instead, he said he is planning to bring the boat out of its more than 10-year retirement.
Slack’s father, George, built the boat as a retirement project, which offered river tours for 20 years before it was docked in 2004 after an unsuccessful summer touring in the Shuswap.
A KTW story from 2007 reports the family was attempting to sell the boat. Now that he’s retired, Slack said he plans to start up the touring business again instead, though he added that’s likely some time off yet.
“I think there’s a lot of folks in Kamloops that would be very sad to see it go, especially with it looking like it might be resurrected again as a commercial venture,” he said.