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‘Everyone is passing the buck’: Mudslides from hillside developments plague Naramata residents

Regional District says it is Ministry of Transportation responsible for storm drainage
This is Vista Benchlands development above Naramata that saw mud and rocks come into the neighbourhood below after the last rainfall in September. (Facebook)

Large runoffs from hillside developments in Naramata continue to plague homes below while fear and frustration grows in residents who say everyone is passing the buck of responsibility.

Around 40 people got together at the Naramata Fire Hall on Sunday (Sept. 25) to see what they could do to get any government body to take responsibility to prevent future mudslides.

“It’s like the wild west here where everyone keeps passing the buck and no one is taking responsibility for the runoff these developments are causing,” said Stefanie Gale, chair of the Naramata Society for Responsible Infrastructure Development (NSRID).

On Sept. 14, a torrent of mud, rock and silt came crashing down the hill from the new Vista Benchland development onto the Stonebrook homes below. The Vista development is the clear-cut scar that can be seen above Naramata.

Roger Beck was one of the homeowners whose garage was hit by the mudslide last week.

He said the mud just kept coming and it’s only thanks to numerous caring neighbours that it has been cleaned up.

“It took 12 hours for all of us to clean up the mess,” said Rogers. “There was so much heavy mud and silt.”

“I have some really great neighbours who I couldn’t have done this without them,” Beck said after the meeting.

The developer of Vista has removed every tree from the land that sits above the Stonebrook neighbourhood.

While the mudslide wasn’t as bad as in 2018, the residents who met on Sunday said the next big rainfall could produce the same 2018 results.

“The stress of all of this is eroding our sense of community in Naramata,” said one resident.

“We don’t even know if he was allowed to remove all those trees because there is no oversight,” said another resident.

This is some of the mud and debris that came down from the hillside Vista development onto the Stonebrook neighbourhood in Naramata. (Contributed)
This is some of the mud and debris that came down from the hillside Vista development onto the Stonebrook neighbourhood in Naramata. (Contributed)

“I’m appalled there aren’t any regulations and slope stabilization policies in place,” said another.

The Regional District of Okanagan and Similkameen approves zoning of developments and then the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MoTI) is responsible for overseeing drainage.

Problems from hillside developments first started to cause problems in 2018, leading to several lawsuits that have now been settled.

At that time, many Naramata residents tried to get answers from the RDOS and MoTI, the government organizations in charge of development and subdivisions in Electoral Area E.

But when it comes to stormwater, runoff and drainage, RDOS ‘passes the buck’ over to the province. The ministry has told residents that a fix would bring in a culvert draining down to Okanagan Lake at a cost of over $5 million.

“Who pays for that,” asked one resident.

“I’m tired of hearing Naramata isn’t incorporated so it has nothing to do with RDOS and when you talk to MoTI, they think ‘how fast can I wear you down so you don’t bother me anymore.’ I’m tired of that too,” said Gale at the meeting.

Longtime Naramata resident Norbert Lacis decided to look into just how much authority RDOS has when it comes to subdivisions.

He believes there is actually quite a bit RDOS could require of the developer regarding slope standards, runoff and drainage as well as requiring a developer to provide a security or deposit so that if the developer contravenes a permit and causes damage, the RDOS can correct the problem and use the security to pay for the work.

RDOS CAO Bill Newell says drainage isn’t their domain.

“Roads and storm drainage are not relegated to regional districts in B.C. legislation, and the RDOS doesn’t cover them in the subdivision bylaw. The Provincial Subdivision Approving Officer evaluates road and storm drainage in the subdivision application approval process,” RDOS communications coordinator Erick Thompson said in response to inquiries by the Western News.

Storm drainage for a new subdivision is addressed, usually along road rights-of-way, in the approval of a subdivision, he added.

MoTI owns and regulates the roads and the storm drainage systems throughout the 10,400 square km of the RDOS, including Electoral Area “E”, according to Thompson.

“The Regional District has not established a Storm Drainage Service and has not identified that undertaking in any future plan,” Thompson said.

The NSRID was expected to have a meeting with MLA Dan Ashton on Monday hoping to get answers.

READ MORE: Couple claims Kettle Ridge Development Corporation knew of risk, but neglected to protect from slide

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Monique Tamminga

About the Author: Monique Tamminga

Monique brings 20 years of award-winning journalism experience to the role of editor at the Penticton Western News. Of those years, 17 were spent working as a senior reporter and acting editor with the Langley Advance Times.
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