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Slide victims still bogged down in bureaucracy
One year later, Kathy Mercier is just as frustrated as the day her house and livelihood was swept away in mud and debris.
June 13 marked the first anniversary of the Oliver mudslide that took buildings, cars, crops and farm equipment in its wake after erupting on the mountainside on a Sunday afternoon and spilling across Highway 97.
“Emotionally we are still in the same spot as last year at this time,” said Mercier, who lost about two acres of grapes and her home which was also a bed and breakfast. “I don’t know anyone that has settled. Everyone is still waiting and every once in awhile the government lawyer will phone and say hi and they will get back to you, but they never do. We are just waiting, waiting and waiting. It’s very frustrating because you can’t get on with your life. We can’t farm our property because we don’t know where we can plant or not. So much of this goes towards the healing and being able to take some action, but we are unable to take action anywhere so therefore there is no healing.”
A report released one month after the mudslide blamed a litany of errors for the Testalinda dam breach that caused the massive mudslide. At the time the dam burst it had been the subject of warnings for decades.
“For at least the last 40 years it was documented that it is condemned, it needs to be repaired or decommissioned but nobody did anything,” said Mercier. “Year after year it was found this thing is in bad repair and what will happen if it goes, now they know what will happen. In fact right up until the Friday before the slide someone tried to warn officials. This is very frustrating too.”
Hal Kreiger had been hiking in the Testalinda area and reported something was wrong at the dam site to the Osoyoos Tourist Information booth three days before the mud torrent went down the hill. The information was relayed to local RCMP via a non-emergency number. A dispatcher contacted the district office of the Ministry of Forests and Range in Vernon, who then left a voicemail with a Ministry of Forests compliance and enforcement technician. The message wasn’t received until after the mudslide occurred.
Mercier said $300,000 was offered in disaster relief money to compensate for their home, the quote from the original builder to the government to rebuild the house is $690,000.
“We got less than half of what it is worth. Here it is one year later and the government keeps saying we are going to settle up with you, we will talk to you tomorrow, but you know the old story, tomorrow never comes so we are still waiting,” said Mercier.
While the government has completed two of the Mercier’s five actions — putting the creek back and giving them access to their property — they still are waiting for their house to be rebuilt, a hydro pole to be replaced the same distance from the house and their grapes to be replanted. She said some of her neighbours paid for contractors to clean up their property and have now replanted. One family who literally ran from the slide as it came towards their house have also cleaned up and replanted. Mercier said they now live in Summerland because it is still too traumatic for them.
“Ideally Gene (her husband) and I would go away for a couple of months and when we came back lo and behold there would be our house standing, there would be all the grapes planted and I could open my junk drawer and find my bag of elastic bands. All these small things we take for granted. Give us back what we had and let us go on with life.”