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No assistance for victims of 'predictable' landslides in BC

Under the province's Disaster Financial Assistance program, home-owners can apply to receive compensation for as much as $300,000 in property damage caused by a disaster, but homes hit by landslides are not covered.

"The criteria is for sudden and unexpected events," said Wes Shoemaker, an Associate Deputy Minister in the province's Emergency Management BC division. "That's what disasters are really about."

Potential landslides can be often be predicted by tell-tale signs such as cracks in building foundations or sagging driveways, he told a Union of B.C. Municipalities forum in Penticton this morning.

Though landslides are predictable, he said, it can be very difficult to determine who is responsible. He added that it is hard to hold developers and local politicians accountable for decisions that were often made 25 to 30 years ago.

"The fact is, unfortunately that the homeowners are caught in the middle."

Peter Mitchell, a director with the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of BC, said his group developed guidelines in 2006 that may help prevent landslides.

Many B.C. municipalities are already following the recommendations when they decide whether to build in areas with a landslide risk, he said.

"It's raised the bar," Mitchell said.

But the province has not yet identified a benchmark for landslide safety or acceptable risk that would help show the public how dangerous it is to live in certain areas, he added.

Nonetheless, Shoemaker said it is possible to mitigate the risk of landslides through proper risk assessments. "I think that we can have a better appreciation for what the risks are and we can manage them appropriately."

Geoff Dembicki is a staff reporter for The Hook.

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