Payment arrives for victims of Oliver mudslide

Two years after a devastating mudslide in Oliver, almost all claimants have received compensation

Two years after a devastating mudslide in Oliver, almost all claimants have received compensation.

Brian Symonds, director of regional operations for the B.C. Ministry of Forest, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, wouldn’t give an exact figure but said the total payment “was substantial, several million dollars in total.”

A mud torrent washed away homes, businesses and crop land. While for those who had to run for their lives as the debris came rushing towards their home on June 13, 2010, the effects were emotional.

A total of 10 of the 12 claims have now been paid, and Symonds said the remaining cheques should be delivered with the next week or two.

“I think everybody thought it would be completed sooner, but it took longer than some of the people would have liked and certainly longer than we wanted to reach an agreement. The people I have heard from are happy with the way they were treated, again short of they would have liked it to have gone faster,” said Symonds.

A 50-page document looking into the disregard of Section 25 — released following a freedom of information request by law students from the Environmental Law Clinic of the University of Victoria — said the Ministry of Environment directed the owners of Testalinda Dam to do remedial work, but did not follow up to ensure that it was done.

Section 25 requires public bodies to act without delay to disclose a risk of significant harm to the environment or safety of the public among other disclosures. The report states the MOE was aware of the weaknesses of the dam and that it presented a risk of failure that could lead to loss of life and property.

In conclusion, the report outlines how luck has played a part in several near fatalities in B.C. from disasters that could have been prevented. In the case of the mudslide, it happened to be that the torrent came down during the day when most were not at home, as opposed to at night when residents would have been sleeping and likely not able to escape.

Dealings with the government and the dam owner have not concluded. Symonds said after the debris flow the individual who owns the rights to Testalinda Dam was required to decommission it.

“He actually applied to abandon his licence. We said if you want to abandon the licence, which basically means he would no longer have the right to store water up there or make use of the water up there, as a condition you need to make sure that the dam doesn’t present a continuing hazard, so he was required to engage a professional engineer and what we call decommission the dam,” said Symonds.

“It was his costs and we were concerned more about the fact if he would do that work which he agreed to do. We obviously directed him to do it, but he agreed to undertake the work and he did do it to our satisfaction.”

That work was completed in the fall of 2010, and another assessment was then done by the owner to make sure everything was functioning after the high water passed. Symonds said it “basically came through unscathed.”

“There is still some ongoing deliberations on that front between the province and him. Part of the reason why that part has taken longer is we wanted to settle the claims. That was our main concern and that is what we have now managed to do,” said Symonds.