Living in limbo is no way to live for Greg Wesson, a tenant at the Maple Pool Campsite, where questions about flooding and compliance with zoning bylaws have resulted in legal action by the City of Courtenay.
Wesson has delivered a statement for court proceedings that began in June and will resume in the fall. He is among 57 Maple Pool residents facing a possible eviction.
Wesson, 57, came to Maple Pool about seven years ago after he was badly injured in a motorcycle crash. He has mental issues, including agoraphobia, a fear of open spaces. Once a self-employed stone cutter, the former Hornby Island resident had lived in a tent before moving to Maple Pool, where he pays $500 a month for a trailer.
Wesson said the court case is causing anxiety in his neighbourhood.
“They would much rather know the outcome rather than being left in limbo,” said Wesson, who receives disability assistance. “For me, that’s the hardest place to be.”
He says living at Maple Pool has been a “good experience,” recalling the sense of community he felt when living on Hornby.
“When you put a small number of people together, that’s what you get, because everybody knows each other.”
The City initiated legal action in 2011 against campsite owners Dali and Jin Lin. Former city CAO Sandy Gray had said zoning prohibits the couple from housing people on the property, which sits in a floodplain and which flooded in 2009 and 2010.
“If the City were not to enforce their bylaw, I would not be surprised if there is a flood and someone were to be injured or there was a death, that it would be all over the papers,” City lawyer Alyssa Bradley said at a BC Supreme Court hearing in Nanaimo. “Why didn’t the City do something about it?”
Justice Robin Baird acknowledged the difficulty of the case and potential liability issues, but also noted Wesson’s only problem has been wet feet. He compared Maple Pool to Calgary, which has experienced a greater severity of flooding in recent times.
“Now that’s a river, and that’s a flood,” Baird stated, adding the Tsolum River “isn’t the Mighty Bow.”
Comox Valley Emergency Program co-ordinator Mike Fournier recalls sending search and rescue personnel to retrieve four propane tanks that washed away from Maple Pool into the river during a previous flood.
Of two types of floods, he said water that rises is not as dangerous as current. When the river goes over a bank, he added, it takes a shortcut across Maple Pool, about one-third of which is under current.
“If the current is strong enough, it actually swipes things away like propane tanks, trailers or people if they happen to fall in the water,” Fournier said, noting the expense of evacuating people who need to be fed, clothed and housed.
The Province has twice provided Disaster Financial Assistance for Maple Pool. It is now called Emergency Management B.C.
“EMBC has told me that three strikes and you’re out,” Fournier said. “That means they will evacuate people one more time and pay. After that there will be no funds. The last time the bill was around $35,000.”
Fournier, who wrote an emergency plan for Maple Pool, said measures can be taken to stop or deflect the current of the river.
“There are some trailers in the path of that current,” he said. “We need to be safe at least.”
Last fall, Courtenay City Council established a working committee to liaise with the Lins and their lawyers on use of the land. The idea was to come up with solutions and options to raise the land to conform with set flood levels and construction elevations. Several people have offered to provide machinery, materials and labour to support the necessary rezoning.
City CAO David Allen and staff met last week with three people interested in finding options for a solution to the situation.
While flooding has not been severe, Allen is concerned about seeing a greater number of severe weather events.
“While we’re for now pursuing the legal remedy, we also have a clear understanding that this is a human issue, and people’s livelihoods and living spaces are impacted,” Allen said. “I think there’s this concern that the big bad corporation of Courtenay is to deal with an issue in a heavy-handed way. That’s not the case. There are liability issues and there’s concerns about putting taxpayers on the hook if something should happen.”