Deep Cove homeowner Gary Wilson says he’s caught between some rocks and a wet place.
Wilson’s home physically straddles Panorama Creek, which routinely jumps its banks and floods his property and threatens the structure of the house. It’s happened four times in the last decade when heavy rains carry boulders and logs down the channel, most recently in November.
Wilson blames the District of North Vancouver for allowing the debris from the municipally owned lands above his property to clog the creek channel.
“The district is playing Russian roulette,” he said. “The one in November produced gravel, filled my creek channel with new boulders … logs came down, blocked the channel and washed out more of my retaining wall. It produced a small landslide on my property. And the district still is doing nothing.”
But the district is far more concerned with the retaining wall that surrounds the creek and supports Wilson’s home. Today, sections of it are collapsed and the front entrance to the home, which is creekside, is inaccessible. In 2015, district council imposed a remediation order on Wilson, ordering him to have the retaining wall repaired. Failing to comply with a remediation order can result in the municipality carrying out the work and adding the costs to the property owner’s tax bill.
Now the two sides are at an impasse over who should take responsibility for the creek.
Wilson recently received a letter from the district’s lawyer warning he had 30 days to fix the retaining wall – “in the middle of the winter,” Wilson noted.
But Wilson said he won’t be complying with the order until the district does something to stop the boulders and logs from bashing up against the retaining wall, like building a deflection berm or debris guard of some kind upstream.
“It would be futile. Boulders keep rolling through the channel, damaging the channel. Any work that I do will be damaged the following year. And each and every year, I’m not going to spend $100,000 or $200,000 repairing the channel,” he said. “They send me all kinds of threatening letters. I believe they’re hesitant to sue me because I don’t think they have a leg to stand on. That’s why four years later, they haven’t acted on the remedial order.”
Wilson said he’s already paid out of pocket to install one berm on district land, which he did without approvals.
The district has a policy to “assist homeowners, who, through no fault of their own, are faced with financial hardship as a result of drainage problems,” Wilson noted.
The only thing the two sides agree on is that it’s not just Wilson’s property that’s at risk. If the walls were to collapse or debris were to clog the culvert on Panorama Drive, all of the properties and people below would be in danger of flooding. A 2017 geotechnical engineering report commissioned by the district listed Wilson’s property at 2525 Panorama Dr. as “exceeding tolerable limits for individual safety risk.”
“We had its condition assessed again in November of this year and the consensus is the walls are continuing to deteriorate,” said Dave Stuart, chief administrative officer for the district. “The consultants have stated specifically that the condition of his wall poses more risk than any debris that’s coming down the creek.”
Stuart said the municipality is eager to meet with Wilson about solutions upstream but the safety of those living on Panorama Drive has to come first.
“We have for a number of years been assessing all of our natural hazards including the conditions of our creeks to identify risks and any action that’s required, whether that’s on public or private land and we have spent millions of dollars, I would say, in the last five years to make improvements,” he said. “Notwithstanding that, we have continuously offered to work with him to find a consultant, to agree on the scope of work, we’ve agreed to talk to him about the concerns he’s got upstream but that doesn’t allow him to shirk his responsibility to fix his retaining walls, which are on his property”
The home was built in 1980 and the addition over top of the creek was approved in 1984.
“We’ve evolved quite a lot and that kind of an arrangement would never be approved today. We have streamside setbacks. We have natural hazard development permits,” Stuart said.
Stuart would not say whether the district will seek a court order for Wilson to carry out the remediation work.