RDCK working to help couple losing home in landslide

·4 min read

A Passmore couple may be getting some help to demolish their home, after a series of landslides caused most of their property to erode into the Little Slocan River.

Scott Carlson and Christa Brakmann are facing the complete loss of their retirement property, as slow erosion by the Little Slocan River is wearing away the hillside.

Now the RDCK’s Emergency Operations Centre says it may be able to step in and help the couple.

While details of what the EOC can do were not settled by press time, an RDCK official told the Valley Voice “the RDCK is currently working with the Carlsons and the Province to remove the house and mitigate any potential damage to the environment.”

Eroding castle

The slide has been a slow-moving disaster that’s reaching its peak now.

Perched on a point a kilometre or two up from the mouth of the Little Slocan River, Carlson and Brakmann’s 4,000-square-foot home offered spectacular views of the two valleys coming together.

“I was told at one time it was the most expensive piece of housing property in the Slocan,” says Carlson.

But the land the building was on contained a terrible flaw. It was essentially built on top of a natural sand pile – one susceptible to erosion. As a result, while the building is assessed at over half a million dollars, its market worth is far less.

There was no sign of a problem when the couple bought the place, back in 1997. A neighbour had had a small slough into the river, a few years earlier, but it had been shored up with timbers.

“Nobody thought that was a big deal at the time,” he says.

Then the ever-changing Little Slocan River turned and braided into a new configuration, and began eating away at his property.

“It’s the desire of every mountain to flow to the sea,” says Carlson philosophically.

In 2014 the couple spent $150,000 to move the house to the back of the property, after an initial small slide clipped the edge of their land.

“A geo-tech looked at it and said the rest of this area would be safe if we did some remediation at the bottom,” recalls Carlson, but says the idea to add rip-rap rock to the riverbank “would have cost way more than the house and the property to do.”

The couple put some cabled logs at the bottom, as was done at the neighbour’s slide in 1997. They also did some remedial re-vegetation. But that all disappeared in the freshet of 2018, when the next major slide occurred.

“As material disappeared from the bottom, it’s replaced by material from higher up. It’s gravity at work,” says Carlson.

Carlson figures 30,000 dump truck loads of sand have been swept into the river in the last few years. And every day there’s another little trickle of rocks, inexorably eating away at the property.

Now the sheer precipice is only about 25 feet from his doorstep, and getting closer every week.

He’s worried about the environmental impact of all that material going into the river – and what would happen if his house joined it.

But help has been hard to find.

“Of course your house insurance doesn’t include landslide insurance unless you specifically ask for it,” he says. “And after the first slide no one is going to give us landslide insurance.”

“We applied for disaster financial assistance through the provincial emergency program, and they turned us down, saying it was an ongoing event,” he says.

Since their story came to light, the RDCK has come to some aid. An area emergency official got a geotechnical expert to come in and take a look, and now the Emergency Operations Centre has stepped in. A final agreement still needs to be struck.

Carlson’s glad someone’s addressing the slide’s impact on the river and environment. The affair has cost him about $700,000 he’ll never get back, but he’s hoping the emergency officials can at least protect the river.

“We won’t have any further liability here, which is good,” he says. “It would have added insult to injury if we had to pay to take the house down.”

Carlson and his wife don’t sleep in the building anymore, and he’s bought a new house in Castlegar, near his wife’s work. He seems both resigned and at peace with his problem.

“I would have been totally happy to stay here until I don’t know who I am or where I’m living,” he says. “But we’re living our lives, playing the hand we’re dealt with.”

John Boivin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice