An Antigonish County couple's 11-year battle over property damage related to the twinning of Highway 104 has finally come to a close after they received nearly $600,000 in compensation from the province.
Jane DeWolfe and Kevin Partridge have lived in their log home along the bank of the South River in Lower South River, N.S., for 40 years.
They swam in the river, taught their kids to swim in it, fished and boated in it. They've watched cranes raise their young on the riverbank, and when the turtles climb ashore to dig holes in their gravel driveway to lay eggs in, they don't mind one bit.
But in October 2011, the river got too close for comfort. After a heavy rainstorm, water flooded their home and damaged or washed away equipment and supplies for Partridge's log home restoration business, which operated from the property.
The river had never flooded their property before. But things were not as they used to be.
Damage to home, business
Earlier that year, the province had expropriated a small portion of their land to begin work on a temporary bridge to support the twinning of nearby Highway 104. Crews filled in the marshy area opposite Partridge and DeWolfe's home, removing the natural buffer for rising water levels.
During heavy rains, the water had nowhere to go except up over the bank by the couple's home.
The flood warped the floors, destroyed the decorative concrete stamping outside, damaged their septic system and caused mould and mildew that persists to this day. The water also affected the stability of the house, causing parts to shift slightly, creating problems with the roof and windows.
Machinery and logs for Partridge's business were damaged beyond repair, and the business was never able to recover from the loss.
"They just robbed me of my home, my business, my life's work.… That's the way I look at it," said Partridge. "It took us years to start up a business and make this business work.… All that was gone overnight — gone."
The property flooded a few times afterward, but it has not flooded since the marshy area was cleared of fill after the construction project was completed, the couple says.
DeWolfe says their lives were upended not only by the flood, but also by the relentless noise from the trucks, jackhammers and pile drivers used in the construction of the replacement bridge as well as a brand-new bridge for Highway 104.
"It was like living in hell, really. It was totally consuming us," she said.
Their home now sits between the two bridges.
"Our life was destroyed, basically. I mean, I don't want to sound dramatic or whatnot, but it's pretty well the truth," DeWolfe said.
Claim for compensation
After the flood, Partridge and DeWolfe brought a claim for compensation to the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board. The UARB only awarded them $70,469, stating they failed to prove the flooding was caused by the bridge work.
The couple appealed the decision to the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal, which found in their favour and ordered the UARB to reassess damages. DeWolfe and Partridge claimed damages to the tune of $1.3 million — including $402,000 for lost future income from the business, $35,000 for the equipment, $406,000 for the loss of value to the property and $518,000 in interest.
All along, the province disputed that the flood caused some aspects of the property damage and led to the demise of the business, suggesting instead that the company lacked serious clients.
The couple's lawyer, Gavin Giles of the firm McInnes Cooper, said the province "argued vociferously before the board that they were cheats and that they were liars … and they were deeply hurt as a result of those arguments and allegations."
'I think it's criminal'
Partridge said he felt mistreated by the province throughout the entire process, and says he was called a criminal and a con.
"They call me everything but Christ, you know?" he said. "I've met some rough people in my life through construction.… People like that acted like that on the job site or out there, they'd be knuckled by people. I think it's criminal. I think there's criminality in the way they pulled it off."
In March, the board awarded Partridge and DeWolfe about half the amount they claimed: $210,000 for the loss of their business, $154,000 for the loss of the value of their home and interest dating back to October 2011. The total amount, about $595,000 was deposited in their account on June 9.
"That's a substantial amount of money. Yes, it is," said DeWolfe. "But we feel that we got halfway there."
The Department of Public Works did not answer questions about the case. A spokesperson said in an email that the department accepts the compensation decision.
The couple's legal fees will also be paid by the province. Lawyers have submitted a cost of about $1 million, but the UARB has yet to approve the bills.
DeWolfe and Partridge plan to spend part of the money carrying out the much-needed repairs to their home. Since losing their business, they have been living off Partridge's senior's pension and haven't been able to afford to fix the house.
"I'm glad we got some money," said Partridge. "My biggest relief is that Jane's got a few dollars in her pocket if I drop dead tomorrow or today.… Jane got some peace.… That's my win."
Partridge said he hopes his fight for compensation will help others in that position, and teach the province a lesson.
"It might make it easier for someone down the road.… You know, they won't pick on the little fella."
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