Grand Forks residents have launched a proposed class action lawsuit in B.C. Supreme Court alleging provincial government forestry mismanagement and negligent logging caused devastating flooding in 2018.
In a notice of civil claim, they claim the ministry overestimated the amount of timber that could be sustainability clearcut by 20 per cent over a period of up to 20 years.
Without sufficient timber regrowth and watershed recovery, the lawsuit claims the result was increased surface runoff and stream flows that caused the major flooding events in the Kettle and Granby river systems in 2018.
“I’ve been flooded three out of the four years I’ve been here,” said Jennifer Houghton, a Grand Forks resident. “It’s been a traumatizing experience, the uncertainty of not knowing if you’re going to flood again.”
Houghton is one of three named representative plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit.
The defendants include B.C.’s Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources Operations, forestry companies Interfor, Weyerhaeuser, Tolko Industries, pulp company Mercer Celgar and three First Nations owned companies.
“There was no way the amount of forests that’s being taken out of our watershed cannot be connected to the amount of flooding we’ve been getting,” Houghton told CBC News.
Watch video of the devastating 2018 flooding in and around Grand Forks, B.C.
Lawsuit accuses province, forestry companies of negligence
The residents’ statement of claim accuses the province and the logging companies of creating conditions that led to flooding and argue they are responsible for the substantial damages caused by the 2018 disaster.
“The severity of this event has been the result of forestry harvesting and watershed resource mismanagement that has significantly increased levels of sedimentation, sediment transport, water quantity, the timing of flow and the runoff into the Granby and Kettle rivers during peak melt seasons, the claim alleges.
None of the allegations have been tested in court and a response to the lawsuit has yet to be filed. The B.C. Forests Ministry refused comment, saying the matter is before the court. The case has yet to be certified as a class action and hearings are unlikely to begin before 2021.
The residents are asking the court to include all people living within 15 kilometres of Grand Forks whose homes, businesses, health or livelihood was affected as a result of the flooding.
Their lawyer Peter Waldmann says it could be years before the civil suit is heard in court.
Homes to be destroyed by city and returned to flood plain
Jennifer Houghton says she isn’t waiting for the lawsuit.
“I’m going to be moving, so I won’t have to deal with flooding again.”
Her home has been bought out by the City of Grand Forks as part of a flood mitigation program.
Sixty-two homes in the North Ruckle neighbourhood and 16 from South Ruckle, two areas hardest hit by the floods in 2018, are being purchased and destroyed.
The city says the area will be returned to a flood plain.
A $50 million recovery plan, announced by federal, provincial and city officials, will also be used to reinforce 1,300 metres of a river bank and build dykes to prevent future flooding.