Swansea Point home-owner Glen Heming inspects a large hole that was carved into the foundation of his residence by Hummingbird Creek after it burst out of its banks Saturday

Swansea Point homeowners consider legal recourse for damages caused by debris flow

Residents say bridge proposed by BC government after 1997 debris flow may have lessened impact of recent torrent from Hummingbird Creek.

This time Swansea Point homeowners Glen and Linda Heming won’t be letting the province off the hook so easily.

Last week the Hemings were busy removing truckload upon truckload of sand and debris from their front and back yards. Their Swansea Point Road residence was in the path of destruction left by Hummingbird Creek after it left its channel on the evening of Saturday, June 23, and came rampaging through the residential subdivision.

The Heming’s residence has been in Glen’s family since 1963, and had recently been renovated. The foundation was compromised by the flooding creek water, which managed to fill his eight-foot-high basement.  Glen estimates this repair alone will cost him around $40,000. He adds there is no insurance as it’s “an act of God,” and that seasonal residents do not qualify for disaster relief from the province.

“We’re not permanent residents here so we don’t qualify,” Glen explained. “Most of the people here are in the same boat. So there’s no compensation.”

So the Hemings are considering a class action suit which, as they explain, would be based on the fact that at one time, the B.C. government had considered building a bridge over Hummingbird Creek instead of the culvert that was put in after an equally powerful debris flow occurred in 1997.

“We said they need a bridge there instead of a culvert,” says Glen. “The culvert is too small; they put steel rods in front of it to stop the trees from going down there – well that just made it dam quicker because nothing could go through it. What they need is a bridge so the material can continue going down the creek and into the lake.”

Neighbour Dave Flemming wholeheartedly agrees a bridge may have lessened, if not prevented, the damage that occurred this time around.

“It did exactly what it did in ‘97 – it starts like pickup sticks against the culvert,” said Flemming. “And it starts to come over the road, and as soon as it started to come over the road the people who were here in ’97 said it’s going to flood again.”

Across the road from the Hemings, Alpine Village Resort president Decker Shields is plodding around in gum boots, trying to deal with the damage done to about 15 residents impacted by the torrent. By a swimming pool filled with sand, and a residence that was pushed four feet by the debris flow, concrete foundation and all, Shields explained he was in Swansea Point in 1997, and said he was surprised when the province replaced the former culvert with more of the same.

“When they put the new culvert in, the first thing we were saying was, ‘This is like the old culvert,’” said Shields. “Why don’t they make two pillars, make it the same width as the creek bed, so if anything happens it stays in the creek bed for a longer term…

“So I don’t know what’s going on but all options are open.”

Alpine Village damage

Alpine Village Resort president Decker Shields, front, looks at the swimming pool filled in by the Hummingbird Creek debris flow.

According to Swansea Point’s political representative, Columbia Shuswap Regional District Electoral Area E director Rhona Martin, the B.C. government had $4 million on-hand to build a highway bridge over Hummingbird,as well as catch basins. However, Martin says the government wanted to cost-share maintenance of the basins with Swansea Point residents. This issue went to referendum and Swansea Point residents voted it down.

“The reason the electorate turned it down is because the other debris basins in the province, the maintenance is paid for by the province. It is protecting the province’s infrastructure and it is protecting the highway,” said Martin. “So the people of Swansea Point questioned, ‘why should we pay for it when other people don’t have to pay for it,’ and I can understand that is why they voted the way that they did.”

Martin warns that a result of the 1997 debris flow, there were changes to the water table that created a lot of problems for Swansea Point residents.

MOTI 2004 photo

Shuswap MLA George Abbott, CSRD Area E director Rhona Martin and former Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon discuss debris flows at Hummingbird Creek. The three posed for this 2004 photo after Falcon indicated that the province would be prepared to commit $4 million towards construction of a debris basin and bridge over Hummingbird Creek. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure photo

Shuswap MLA George Abbott, who worked with Martin on getting the province’s support for the proposed bridge and catch basins, confirmed that the works were shelved as a result of the referendum.

“My recollection was the Ministry of Transportation was prepared to bear 100 per cent of the cost of the bridge and the debris basin, subject to there being a specified area created for the maintenance of the debris basin, and there was a very minor cost associated with that but… I know it was turned down in referendum by a local vote.”

Currently, Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure spokesperson Kate Trotter says “the culvert at Hummingbird is still in place and, while it was blocked by debris during the recent floods, it was not damaged.”

“Crews were able to quickly clear the inlet and restore flow through the culvert,” Trotter explained in an email to the News. “The culvert is working properly and there are no plans to replace it with a bridge.”

Martin says she is also concerned with the lack of government staff checking the conditions of rivers and streams from the ground, which she argues is more effective than aerial assessments.

It may be a while before the Hemings pursue legal action, as right now they are focused on restoring their home. But even with repairs completed, the Hemings see local property values taking a substantial hit.

“The problem down the road is, these places won’t sell,” said Linda.

“The problem is, there’s no guarantee that won’t happen again next year,” adds Glen.

Martin says there are plans being made for a public meeting in Swansea Point where concerns will be heard.