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Provincial Crews Save House in Danger of Falling in Nicola River

‘In the end the process was no big deal. It was simply drowning in bureaucracy.’

Michelle Gamage 10 Aug 2022TheTyee.ca

Michelle Gamage is a Vancouver-based journalist with an environmental focus who regularly reports on climate for The Tyee. You can find her on Twitter at @Michelle_Gamage.

A house that was slated for destruction to prevent it from tumbling into the Nicola River in B.C.’s Interior has been saved.

The house had been inching towards the water’s edge ever since last November’s atmospheric river changed the Nicola’s course in several areas. During the storm three houses were washed into the river when its currents eroded the land beneath the buildings.

As The Tyee reported July 22, a fourth house was in danger of falling into the river in July as the Nicola steadily ate away at the gravelly, sandy soil under Ed Buder’s rancher mobile home. The home used to be about a 50-minute drive northwest of Merritt, but since the atmospheric river washed out the highway, the home is no longer accessible by road.

On July 31 a six-person provincial Ministry of Transportation crew used an excavator to pull the house away from the eroding bank, according to Michael Coutts, Buder’s neighbour, whose property sits across the river. To access Buder’s property, crews had to approach from the far side of the water and then cross the river, because roads are still washed out in the area, Coutts says.

Coutts and his family have to hike supplies into their home because roads on their side of the river are also damaged.

It took crews one hour to drive from their work camp, two hours to prep the home and haul it away from the river’s edge, and another hour to return to their camp, Coutts says.

“In the end the process was no big deal. It was simply drowning in bureaucracy,” he says.

Four photos show the progression of Ed Buder’s mobile home being moved away from the edge of the riverbank.
On July 31, Michael Coutts took pictures from the other side of the river as crews pulled Ed Buder’s home back from the brink of the eroding riverbank. Photos courtesy of Michael Coutts and Edith Buder.

Coutts has been raising the alarm with all levels of government over the last few months as he watched the riverbank slowly eat into Buder’s property.

Co-ordinating the house’s rescue required the regional and provincial government to work together, Jamie Vieira, acting director of the Emergency Operations Centre for the Thompson-Nicola Regional District, told The Tyee in July.

Crews had to repair the highway so that heavy machinery could be brought close to the site and had to wait for the high river flow caused by freshet, or snowmelt, to recede, Vieira told The Tyee in July. So while the regional government was aware of the risk of the house falling in the river they were unable to act right away, he says.

In July it was looking like crews were going to have to demolish the house and remove it piece by piece to prevent it from falling in the river, Vieira said.

The house had previously been pulled back from the water’s edge in May by crews from the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, but erosion had put the house back in the danger zone by July.

Vieira did not respond to an interview request this week for details on why the house was not demolished or why provincial crews were not instructed to pull the house further back the first time they were on site.

Buder is 97 years old and was diagnosed with dementia three years ago, according to his 73-year-old daughter, Edith Rubner. He lived on the property until October 2021 when he moved in with Rubner and her husband in Vernon, B.C.

The atmospheric river hit one month later. It washed out the highway that was the only road access to the property and swept 15 of the property’s 70 acres into its churning waters, Rubner says. The storm also washed away a dump truck, a pickup truck, a tractor, the well and the septic tank.

Rubner says her father now lives in an assisted living centre for seniors.

She and her three siblings had planned to sell the property, but there’s not much left to sell, Rubner says.

Since November the remaining outbuildings, including a bunkhouse, a toolshed, a pump house and two storage sheds have also been swept into the river, she says.

Whoever buys the property will have no septic, power or water.

“We’ll be getting one-fifth of what we could have sold it for before the storm,” she says.

Rubner’s family isn't the only one warily watching land be eroded by a river in B.C.

Raif O’Donovan’s property sits sandwiched between the Thompson River and Trans-Canada Highway. He told The Tyee for years the river has been eating away at his property and his home could one day soon be at risk of falling in the river.

He says he's paid out of pocket to bring around 250 dump-trucks worth of granite rip rap, or large stones, to help prevent erosion — which has cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

When a previous owner built the house it would have been over 20 metres away from the water’s edge but after half a century that's changed, he says.

O’Donovan says he doesn’t feel like it’s the government’s duty to protect private property from erosion damage in this way, but notes if his house falls in the water the Trans-Canada Highway would be on the rivers’ edge.

That means it makes more sense financially for the government to step in and do some preventative work now rather than to wait for the house to be damaged and for the river to threaten the highway, he says.

But when he asked the government for help he was told there's nothing they can do, he says.

Coutts says it’s a relief that Buder’s house is no longer at risk of falling in the river. As a precautionary step he was pulling his solar-powered irrigation pump — the only way his crops could get watered — out of the river every time he thought the house was about to fall in. That's a lot of work, he says.

Coutts and his family run Monkey in the Garden Permaculture Farm.

There's already a lot of garbage in the river after November's storm, he adds. They've been finding large pieces of metal, fence posts, entire vehicles and trampolines partially buried when they walk along the edge of the river or go swimming, he says.

After the flood Coutts says he met a man out walking his dog who suggested it would be a good idea for the government to mandate all houses and buildings be pulled back away from all waterways to prevent future flooding damage.

But it’s impossible to live somewhere where you will never be threatened by natural disasters, such as wildfires, floods, landslides or earthquakes, Coutts says.

It’s better to live where you love living and do your best to prepare for whatever’s coming down the pipeline, he adds.  [Tyee]

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