Two refrigerator-sized boulders have calved off a hillside above Sam Verigin’s home, and she’s worried it’s just a matter of time before the entire slope lets go.
“There’s no doubt in my mind it’s imminent,” said Verigin, whose home is perched on a hillside overlooking Highway 3A just a few kilometres from the Twin Lakes Golf Course.
“You can’t move this much vegetation and this much rock and soil without having repercussions.”
The material was removed when owners of the new Kaleden Acres subdivision punched in a road for the 20-lot development that borders Verigin’s property. The new access, dubbed Resolute Road, was paved last year, except for a steep, gravel switchback that leads to the upper reaches of the site.
That switchback is currently blocked by the two boulders, and a large, arch-shaped fissure is visible on the hillside into which it’s cut. At the top of the hill, the rift looks in places to be 10 metres deep and three metres wide.
Verigin, whose home is about 300 metres downhill of the fissure, said the chasm materialized in the spring and grew throughout the summer. She suspects blasting work on the switchback may be to blame.
The bed-and-breakfast operator has corresponded with government officials about Kaleden Acres for the past few years, mostly around sewage, water and wildlife concerns.
“Now the main concern is the mountain is falling,” she said.
On Monday, Verigin sent photos of the fissure to Tom Siddon, the area director for the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen, who promptly contacted the proper authorities. Two B.C. government ministries then flew engineers to the site by helicopter Tuesday morning to assess it.
“It was my instinct from seeing those pictures that something out of the ordinary is going on here,” said Siddon, who viewed the scene in person on Wednesday.
“You can see something has happened fairly recently,” he continued, noting the fresh-looking trees that have been uprooted in the affected area.
Mark Woods, community services manger for the RDOS, also had a look for himself, but after discussing the situation with the engineers decided not to evacuate Verigin.
“As much as there is no doubt a lot of material there, and it appears it is failing and there could be an imminent failure of even more material, the level of risk to her and her home is quite limited,” Woods said.
Verigin said the engineers told her if the slope does let go, they think the material will slide away perpendicular to her home, which is separated from the area of concern by some trees.
Woods said, however, that officials will continue to monitor the situation and, “If we see a lot of rain activity, we’ll be back out there looking at it and assessing that.”
Any remediation work, he added, will be at the expense of the developer because it’s private property.
Kaleden Acres’ website says it’s a project of Unearth Enterprises, “a geological consulting company to the petroleum industry” that got into land development with a 28-lot residential subdivision in Peachland. Unearth’s website lists its two directors as Mark Goulden and Kathleen Jagger.
Reached via email, Goulden said: “We are aware of this slide problem and have been in touch with the engineers and geotechnical professionals who worked on the project … and as soon as we are advised on the proper course of action, we will do what is necessary to correct it.”
Kaleden Acres went on the market in early 2012. Construction began last month on the subdivision’s first home.
According to Siddon, the B.C. Transportation Ministry is ultimately responsible for approving new rural subdivisions in the province. The ministry did not respond by deadline to a request for comment.
Siddon told an RDOS board meeting Thursday that he doesn’t think Highway 3A would be in danger if the rock face above Verigin’s home fell, “but if I was living in this woman’s house, I’d be quite concerned.”