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LETTER: Canmore should avoid the liability nightmare of developing on undermined land

Editor: During the recent TSMV public hearings, many pondered the next undermining collapse, knowing full well it won’t be the last.


During the recent TSMV public hearings, many pondered the next undermining collapse, knowing full well it won’t be the last.

In his own submission, distinguished geotechnical expert Dr. Norbert Morgenstern of the University of Alberta, laid out a real world scenario of “catastrophic collapse” that we might expect as those underground coal mines continue to cave in.

He pointed to the disaster at the Seawatch development in Sechelt, B.C., noting “there are enough similar elements in the engineering/approval/fiscal responsibility relationships to be of concern” for Canmore. In a nutshell, underground subsidence and collapse has reduced an entire neighbourhood of million dollar homes to damaged, abandoned and vandalized structures now worth absolutely nothing. A quick Internet search reveals the nearly two decade long nightmare.

Developers, local government, engineers, provincial government, planners and homeowners all deny responsibility and blame each other for the disaster. Lawsuits are working their ways through the courts. Residents have lost their homes and suffer ongoing mental anguish. It has been nearly a decade since the first sinkhole at Seawatch, and everything still is sinking – the land, the reputation of proponents, engineers and consultants, the good name of the town, and the spirits of the evacuated homeowners.

Defenders of TSMV’s proposals point to the liability insurance requirements, even though that liability is limited in dollars and expires within a very few years. But consider this – sometimes the only thing worse than no insurance is multiple insurers. Even though the Town, TSMV, and consulting engineers are required to have liability insurance, it is highly unlikely that any single insurer will rush to be the first to assist the owners of damaged or lost homes. At Seawatch, each party holds others responsible and – a decade on so far – no party or insurer has admitted liability.

The parallels between TSMV and Seawatch are compelling and chilling. Development proposed … warnings given ... studies done ... more warnings ... permits approved ... construction begins. Within a few years, the land begins to collapse without warning. What’s next at TSMV?

Dr. Morgenstern’s example puts flesh on the bones of our worst fears as TSMV once again proposes extensive residential and commercial development on the most risky undermined lands.

Canmore has been warned. And there is no reason for the Town to assume liability, risk taxpayer money, and stick all our necks out on a proposal with such known and obvious dangers and flaws.

Valerie and Jim Pissot,