They've suffered through years of LRT construction with little to no reprieve

Robert Charbonneau points to an area of his home's foundation in the basement, where a slim crack runs a couple of metres. What appears to be water staining surrounds the crack. Charbonneau says he discovered the crack in spring 2021, after the Stage 2 LRT construction began nearby. (Jean Delisle/CBC - image credit)
Robert Charbonneau points to an area of his home's foundation in the basement, where a slim crack runs a couple of metres. What appears to be water staining surrounds the crack. Charbonneau says he discovered the crack in spring 2021, after the Stage 2 LRT construction began nearby. (Jean Delisle/CBC - image credit)

From cracks in their homes' foundations to rat infestations and sleepless nights, Orléans residents say living next to Ottawa's light rail transit construction has come with unwelcome consequences for more than two years.

"It's just been absolutely torturous," said Amanda Wilkinson.

"It's like having a bad neighbour," said Sharon Peeler. "It's the stress of, you know, not having control over your life."

Several residents told CBC they've faced issues from rodents on their properties, to household goods shattering due to vibrations, to having to part ways with decades-old trees in their yards, as well as trembles and hums day and night.

Though construction noise ebbs and flows throughout the year, residents reported barely sleeping for week-long stretches when large machines and trucks engaged in overnight excavating, hauling, pouring, drilling, paving or grading.

Residents say city staff came by with ear plugs —  which they say were bulky and ineffective — but feel their complaints and claims have been largely dismissed.

The Stage 2 LRT eastern extension construction along the middle of Highway 174 toward Trim Road began in 2019. It's slated to be substantially completed in 2024 and in full operation by 2025, according to the city's updated presentation earlier this month.

The city says all construction-related damage claims are referred to its contractors.

So far, no money has been paid out in settlements.

Jean Delisle/CBC
Jean Delisle/CBC

Peeler lives next to the highway near the future Place d'Orléans LRT station.

She says her issues began with a leaking toilet base. Then, she says, her shower's caulking had to be redone twice within months, nails along the staircase walls began popping through, at times she lost "sleep up to eight nights" and experienced hearing loss.

"That's how loud it is — it's like you're sleeping with a jackhammer," she said.

Jean Delisle/CBC
Jean Delisle/CBC

To show CBC the extent of her attempts to communicate with city staff, Peeler scrolled through her emails on her tablet computer. She counted upward of 50 emails to the Stage 2 LRT team. She's also reached out to city councillors.

"They don't care," she said. "You know, it's part of construction, [they said]."

To mitigate some of the noise, the city approved building sound barriers along the highway.

Workers began building a sound wall behind Peeler's property in 2021.

Today, tall metal poles stick out of the ground — but the city says completion of this wall is taking "longer than initially estimated due to very hard bedrock and limited site access."

Jean Delisle/CBC
Jean Delisle/CBC

It says crews will complete construction of the retaining wall in early 2023, and will then install noise wall panels. (A city email to Peeler in October promised the panels would be installed by Christmas 2022).

"They keep on leaving our wall to do other walls," Peeler said. "They've always had an excuse."

Last year, city staff forwarded Peeler's issues to Kiewit-Eurovia-Vinci (KEV), the contractor team hired to extend the Confederation Line to Orléans, to start a claims process, which she has yet to go through with.

WATCH | Residents give tour of damage to properties: 

Cracked foundation, rejected claim

Robert Charbonneau lives about seven houses down from the construction site on the highway, near the Jeanne d'Arc LRT station being built.

He discovered a crack in his foundation in the spring of 2021, which cost him $3,616 to fix.

We're in this alone. - Robert Charbonneau, homeowner

"That crack was not observed throughout the winter or the previous year," said Charbonneau. He's one of multiple residents who shared concerns about foundation damage with CBC.

He pointed to a crack along his basement foundation that appeared to stretch down to the floor, with what appeared to be water stains around it.

"We could only associate it with the construction," he explained. "We had lodged two complaints of heavy vibration where dishes and beds and furniture [were] rattling and we felt these vibrations were over-intense."

Jean Delisle/CBC
Jean Delisle/CBC

The city also forwarded Charbonneau's case to KEV — a move he questions.

After one-and-a-half years of back and forth, the contractor's insurance company sent him a letter rejecting his claim in December.

The insurance company for KEV says it can't compensate him for the foundation damage due to his home being outside its considered construction "zone of influence." KEV maintained that vibrations monitored closest to Charbonneau's home "remained below design tolerance."

"We're rather frustrated that we have nobody covering our backs, that we're in this alone," said Charbonneau.

Jean Delisle/CBC
Jean Delisle/CBC

Rats, recovery and mental health impacts

Amanda Wilkinson, whose backyard faces the construction near the future Convent Glen LRT station, said she had rats running around her yard and entering her home through the garage.

"It's really gross," she said.

Wilkinson and her neighbours are also losing a chunk of their backyards to the city. Red markers line how far back the city plans on moving the boundary for construction reasons.

Priscilla Hwang/CBC
Priscilla Hwang/CBC

But for Wilkinson, the overnight noise took the biggest toll on her physical and mental health.

Wilkinson said she's had two major surgeries between 2021 and 2022, and both times recovery was difficult.

"It was near impossible to get sleep, you know, at night or during the day," she recalled. "I'm still going on lack of sleep … Eventually, you know, it starts messing with your mental health."

WATCH | Orléans resident describes 'torturous' few years: 

Building the noise barrier behind Wilkinson's home is expected to start in 2023, the city said. Wilkinson is asking the city for some reprieve at night, as construction continues this year.

"There's no need for them to go all night long."

Wilkinson has sent several emails to the city and her councillor, and says "they just kind of blame people back and forth."

Councillor urges residents to be persistent

The boundaries for the wards in Orléans changed for the last election in October.

Laura Dudas, the councillor who now represents the residents in this story, declined an interview.

You should not be paying for that out of pocket. - Coun. Matt Luloff

Matt Luloff, the councillor who used to represent this area, says impacted residents should seek compensation through a claims process.

Although no damage claims have been paid out so far, he encouraged people to "continue to push through" as the process may take some time.

"Please be persistent, because if there is damage to your home because of this construction, you should not be paying for that out of pocket," he said.

Jean Delisle/CBC
Jean Delisle/CBC

102 claims received, expect more overnight work: city

The city declined an interview.

It says it received about 102 claim submissions relating to the Stage 2 LRT construction project since March 2019, a majority relating to property and vehicle damage.

Six of those claims have been opened for further investigation, including two that are being litigated through court proceedings, it says.

To date, there have "been no settlements paid on these files," a city spokesperson wrote in an email.

The city says all claims have been referred to the Stage 2 contractors — which would be KEV in the east-west line extension and SNC-Lavalin for the south extension.

KEV did not agree to an interview but said in an email that it won't comment on its "robust, contractually-mandated insurance program" for LRT damage claims, as it deals with legal matters.

When asked what its obligation to residents regarding damages is, the city pointed CBC to its webpage that explains when the city enters into contracts with companies, agreements require those contractors to respond to any damage claims from the public.

Noise exemptions allow some overnight work to take place.

"In 2023, residents can expect less night work than previous years," wrote Michael Morgan, director of the city's rail construction program.

"While a significant amount of this work can take place during the day, there will continue to be overnight and weekend work across the eastern extension."