Judge orders province, Sicamous to pay for negligence in 2012 floods - InfoNews

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Judge orders province, Sicamous to pay for negligence in 2012 floods

FILE PHOTO: A one-way sign painted on the street is seen under two feet of water on Young Crescent in Sicamous, B.C. Tuesday, June 26, 2012.
Image Credit: JONATHAN HAYWARD / THE CANADIAN PRESS
April 18, 2019 - 2:30 PM

SICAMOUS – Taxpayers will have to foot the majority of a $2.3 million award after a Supreme Court Justice found the province, the District of Sicamous and a private property owner partially responsible for damage caused to a houseboat business by the catastrophic floods that drenched parts of the Shuswap in 2012.

The $2,367,146, is however significantly lower than the more than $10 million the business owners affected by the flood were seeking.

The June 2012 flood caused widespread damage in the town of Sicamous just before the busy tourist season was due to start.

Waterway Houseboats Ltd, Vinco Holdings Ltd., and 45 individual houseboat owners launched legal action against the provincial government, the District of Sicamous, and a private property owners Bryan and Constance McLaughlin, accusing the parties of failure to correctly manage a creek that flows into Mara Lake. The creek became blocked during the 2012 flood, adding to the flooding.

The defendants argued the 2012 floods were so severe and the water level in Mara Lake so high the flooding would have occurred regardless.

Justice Gordon Weatherill disagreed.

In his decision April 16, Justice Weatherill orders the defendants pay Waterway Houseboats Ltd and Vinco Holdings $887,299 for loss of income and $1,166,850 in property damages. The individual houseboat owners were rewarded $312,997 between them for loss of business from flood damage.

Justice Weatherill did, however, state the houseboat companies were 25 per cent responsible for the damage because they willingly moved their business to that part of Mara Lake which environmental reports showed was prone to flooding, and they were aware of this and did nothing to mitigate the issue.

Much of Justice Weatherill's decision focuses on the actions of Ministry of Environment engineer Paul Doyle, and the pressure put on him to sign off on a bridge, just 15 inches lower in height than was allowed.

The circumstances surrounding the 2012 flood date back to 1997 when the Sicamous Creek flooded and a bridge crossing the creek was removed as a preventative flood measure.

According to the court decision, a series of events took place before a replacement bridge was built. Throughout these events, the Ministry of Environment, the District of Sicamous and the McLaughlins, who owned the bridge, had lengthy consultations over the height of the bridge's replacement and who was responsible for it.

At the forefront of the discussions, Doyle stated the bridge needed to be built one metre higher than it was previously, and in accordance with provincial Water Act be capable of handling a "one in 200 year flood."

Justice Weatherill said neither the District of Sicamous nor the McLaughlins appreciated the "onerous significance of this regulation."

Ultimately, a decision to rebuild the bridge 40 centimetres lower than the one metre required was made and the bridge was rebuilt in 1998. This factor, the court found, caused the creek to block more easily exacerbating the flooding.

Court documents state Doyle was put under pressure to approve the bridge, although he knew the design was floored. Pressure came from the District of Sicamous and the McLaughlins – who were on a deadline to get provincial money to cover the cost. Further pressure was added as the then owner of a nearby campsite was concerned changes to the bridge wouldn't allow large campers to access her business.

Throughout the judgement, the defendants make various assumptions about the bridge's approval and who is responsible for it.

The court documents state the District of Sicamous and the McLaughlins were "under the impression" that as Doyle had agreed to a new lower height for the bridge the province had assumed responsibility. Doyle, however, believed the District and the McLaughlins each took responsibility for it.

The decision states although Doyle wasn't happy with the bridge design he approved it on the basis a district engineer would also approve it. But staff at the district refused to do so, and under pressure from his boss who told him to "sort out the controversy" and "clear the books" Doyle approved the bridge, knowing full well it was not built to specification.

In his decision, Justice Weatherill says Doyle "failed to meet a standard of care" in approving the rebuilding of the bridge. Justice Weatherill said as the only person who understood the importance of what was required he should not have let himself "accept pushback" from the District. Justice Weatherill adds "[Doyle] prided himself as a practical man too. That, unfortunately, was his undoing."

Justice Weatherill found the province and the District of Sicamous negligence for damage caused to the plaintiff's property.

Justice Weatherill said in the decision the McLaughlins' should have taken more steps to make sure the approval was valid, and as they failed to do so they were also liable under the Water Act.

The judge ordered the defendants to split the damages to Waterway Houseboats and Vinco three ways, costing them $684,716 each.


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