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Uphill battle for Langford family caught in rockslide
Jacob Sylvestre’s fingers poke through wire fencing as he gazes at the boulders that smashed through his bedroom wall during a rainstorm, a week before Christmas.
Nearly three months later, little has changed at the Tanzanite Place property in Langford, save for a barrier to keep people away from the rock wall.
The family of four was driven from their home after a bus-size mass of rock fell and became embedded in the side of their house on Dec. 12. One of the rocks narrowly missed eight-year-old Jacob as he was sleeping.
Residents from Langford and across the region stepped up with financial support and a temporary home, but the family still finds itself wedged between a rock and you know what.
Despite initial indications the rockface would be quickly stabilized with cement and steel rods, work to fix their house has ground to a halt and the legal process is moving at a crawl. Home insurance won’t cover repairs, pitting the family in a legal battle with their neighbour living above the rockface, the City of Langford and the geotechnical firm that originally signed off on the subdivision.
“It’s not going well. Everyone is waiting for everyone else to make a move,“ said Suzanne Renauld, Jacob’s mom. “We’ve got nothing fixed. We want to remove the rock. It’s like things are at a stalemate in chess game, but everyone forgets there is a family involved.”
The legal process is expected to take years. Renauld said she and her husband Yvan Sylvestre expected that in the meantime, the towering rockface would be remediated and they’d be able to repair the house, and move back in.
It’s unclear when that will happen, if ever. In January, a Victoria-based geotechnical firm initiated a program that involved installing photo stations on the rockface and monitors that detect rock shifting apart.
From the outset, the company said in a report that the remaining rockface “is likely to experience brittle, sudden failure with few or no warning signs” and could “fail catastrophically at any time.”
On Feb. 18, the company noticed a large fracture, about 50 millimeters wide and 1.2 metres long in the upper part of the rock. The report said its unclear if the rock is moving, but the engineers expect the upper rock slab will eventually topple over.
“The geotechnical company is worried about working there due to safety concerns,” Renauld said. “It’s just a matter of time, but they think it will topple. We think if there is that much potential for danger, someone would act quicker.”
Renauld also noted that one of the opposing lawyers suggested that speeding up the legal process wasn’t necessary due to the “family being taken care of by the community.”
“I almost fell out of my seat when I read that,” she said. “I couldn’t believe they are using the charity of the community against us. At this point I don’t want to take offers for fear of holding up a resolution.”
The family has been living in a home in the Luxton area donated by the Victoria Shamrocks lacrosse organization, but they’ll be moving out in April. They’ve managed to rent a home in their old neighbourhood, and, Renauld noted, will still be paying the mortgage on a house they are forbidden to live in.
“We’re still told the house is salvageable. We have to take on fixing the house and then sue (the neighbour) for damages,” she said. “We can’t do that until someone remediates the wall and secures the rock.”
Langford Mayor Stew Young agreed that it's unacceptable rock is still sitting embedded in the home. He said the process is moving far too slow and that City staff have been asked to communicate to the geotechnical firm that signed off on the original development that it take responsibility for remediating the wall.
“I’m frustrated too. I expected the work to move faster on compassionate grounds for the family,” Young said. “It can’t left to sit there forever with everyone pointing fingers at each other. Clearly the engineers who signed off (on the development) and the property owner of the rock have got to take ownership. This is what insurance is for.”
In December, Renauld’s husband Yvan Sylvestre told the Gazette and other media organizations that he had warned the neighbours and Langford that rocks had occasionally fallen from above his house and he was worried about the stability of the rockface.
Renauld said her two young son don’t understand why they can’t move home.
“There are engineering solutions. It could have been done a year ago, it could have been done eight years ago. It certainly needs to be done now.”