This is a disaster

Harry Sullivan
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County condemns house after garage collapses; single mother left homeless

This is a disaster

SALMON RIVER - A single mom is homeless and at her wit's end after the ground washed out from under her attached garage last weekend.
Kathy Harpell's single-story bungalow has since been condemned by the Municipality of Colchester and she is living alone in a hotel room, while her two children, 15 and seven, are staying with their dad. Her two dogs have also had to be turned over to a friend to care for while Harpell tries to sort out what to do from here.
"This is not my house, this is a disaster," she said, while standing outside the damaged structure Tuesday afternoon where the sound of water rushing through an underground culvert could be heard running through the huge hole that her garage floor has collapsed into.
"I've had moments when I just don't want to do this anymore, I don't want to do anything anymore," she said of the overwhelming depression she has experienced since the collapse of her garage around 4 a.m. Saturday.
"It was a huge crash and the whole house just shook," she said.
The problem is the apparent result of flooding that destroyed a hidden storm drain that runs beneath her garage. The culvert begins across from her home on the other side of East Prince Street, continues under her driveway, runs directly beneath her garage and exits on the far side of her back yard.
The land across the street slopes steeply upwards and following last weekend's heavy rains, the surging water created a huge hole several metres deep that washed all the support out from under her garage.
The problem first began to show itself in early March when Harpell's son noticed some damage in the ground at the front corner of her garage. Since then, she said, it has been a frustrating ordeal trying to get answers to what was taking place and who should be responsible.
"I've been chasing down MLAs, councillors, Department of Transportation, everybody, for a month now."
Her home insurance does not cover the damage and with an estimated $50,000 worth of damage to deal with, Harpell said she has no idea how she is going to afford the expense.
What has been especially frustrating, she said, is the lack of assistance forthcoming from either the municipality (except for her area councillor Glen Edwards) or the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, both of whom she feels share some blame for the ultimate problem.
Harpell purchased her home, which is about 40 years old, a year-and-a half ago. According to what she has been able to learn, a former owner covered over an open waterway and eventually a car port was constructed where her garage now stands.
A few years ago, the person she bought the property from was granted building permits from the county to construct the garage.
"I checked with the previous owners about the permits to make sure they had been given and it was," she said. "They were told it (the waterway) was eight feet down, it was deep enough (not to be a concern)."
Over time, the creosote timber used to construct the hidden culvert appears to have deteriorated and Harpell is frustrated that such work could be approved without anyone being accountable.
"Basically the county's not taking any responsibility for giving the permit and saying it's OK."
And likewise for the transportation department, she said, despite the fact repair work was done several years ago at the intake end of the culvert to correct obvious problems there.
"We do have a culvert under the road," said transportation department spokeswoman Cathy MacIsaac.
"But we only are responsible for the culvert to the end of our right of way, which is 33 feet from the centre line. Anything that may have been attached to said culvert doesn't appear to have been done by us."
A news release provided by the County of Colchester said the Municipality "was not aware or informed of the location of the storm water system by the property owner ..." to whom it has been suggested that she "... seek professional advice to correct the problem and legal advice to consider the implications of the order (by the county) to vacate."
Mayor Bob Taylor did not respond to repeated calls from the Daily News for comment, choosing instead to speak through a brief statement offered in the release.
"It is certainly an unfortunate circumstance for the property owner however the provisions of the Municipal Government Act concerning dangerous premises required the Municipality to act to ensure the safety of the occupants," Taylor said.
"I think the order was in the best interests of the property owner."
For Harpell, the lack of response or acceptance of responsibility has been extremely disheartening and she simply does not know where to turn for help.
"I'm going to lose my home," she said. "If somebody can't help me ... I'm going to lose my home."

Organizations: Department of Transportation, Daily News

Geographic location: Colchester, SALMON RIVER, East Prince Street

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Recent comments

  • Larry
    January 18, 2010 - 10:17

    I agree with Tommy, something is fishy with the previous owner. I read this ladys story in the Herald and she said she has been speaking to a lawyer so it's obvious the various governments are correct or there would be a lawsuit. What kind of an idiot would build something over a culvert! Eight feet down or eighty, pretty dumb. I feel really bad for this lady but she should get a lawyer alright, not to go against the government but to sue the dummy that built the garage there.

  • robert
    January 18, 2010 - 10:16

    There it is, are great mayor bob taylor, would rather send government officials to British Columbia and waist thousands of tax payers money. Why don,t you give this money to the lady that needs to fix her home and stop waisting are tax payers money on foolish trips out west.

  • j
    January 18, 2010 - 10:14

    the government only looks after their own!!!!!

  • Cammer
    January 18, 2010 - 10:14

    Why is the county booting them out of their own house? It doesn't seem like the house is in much danger if it's been there for 40 years. It looks like from the picture that she can get in and out, why cause her more hardship? I agree with the other guy, sue the guy you bought from. Sounds like they aren't offering much help to the person that they just sold to. I would say they are holding their breath that the girl doesn't get a lawyer.

  • eyes on u
    January 18, 2010 - 10:11

    Help this little family and check to see how many others are in danger of losing their holmes because of your mistakes.

  • concerned
    January 18, 2010 - 10:11

    Sounds like this lady needs a good lawyer.
    Keep your spirits up...things always get better and your children didn't get hurt.,that's the main thing.
    Have you spoken to your bank?
    Best of luck...I hope the community makes a stand about this as it could happen to anyone

  • Derek
    January 18, 2010 - 10:10

    If Ms. Harpell purchased Title Insurance when she purchased the home, I believe it should cover this. If not, she should be calling the lawyer who represented her in the transaction and ask why this issue wasn't disclosed at the time of purchase. The municipality also holds liability as they issued permits for the construction of the garage and perhaps due diligence was neglected.

  • eddie
    January 18, 2010 - 10:10

    a typical response from the government denying their fault .the permit should not have been issued when they found out thast a waterway was built over.thye person that issued the permit should be held accountable.

  • Sarah
    January 18, 2010 - 10:07

    y would the previous owner have to pay if there was permits, a contractor, and a inspector that checked everything out???
    its not there fault in my opinion! all the goverment!

  • dave
    January 18, 2010 - 10:05

    This comment has been removed by a moderator.

  • sue
    January 18, 2010 - 10:03

    Yes who ever gave out the building permit to build over top of a water way should be the one responsible and maybe the last owner who might have known about the water way and keep that to himself when he tore down the carport and rebuilt the garage but still a very horrible thing to have happen to ones home after only just buying it a year ago

  • AMANDA
    January 18, 2010 - 09:59

    This is absolutly a disgraceful and the government and municipality should be a shamed of themselves. This is a single mother raising 2 children and everyone turns there back on her. I cannot even repeat what I would say to Ms. spokes person from the Dept of Transportation and the other one who could not be reached for comment. Wonderful support we have from our government during this time of economy issues. Some one in office needs to own up and pay to have this fixed!!!!!!!!!

  • Barb
    January 18, 2010 - 09:53

    When this previous property owner was granted a permit did an inspector come out an check the construction as it was being done .If so maybe he should get his eyes checked. Most construction is checked at different intervels ,especially when its being added to another building . I think that both the town and the previos owner should pay up

  • eddie
    January 18, 2010 - 09:51

    a typical response from the government denying their fault .the permit should not have been issued when they found out thast a waterway was built over.thye person that issued the permit should be held accountable.

  • jason
    January 18, 2010 - 09:51

    Give Mike Holmes a call! what a horrible situation. Makes you wonder what the hell is under your house that you are not aware of.

  • Tommy
    January 18, 2010 - 09:50

    It sounds like the previous property owner constructed the culvert extension on his/her own private property, without a permit, to completely hide the fact that there was a drainage ditch running through the property. How would the County or DOT be responsible for something that was constructed on private property without their knowledge or approval? When the property owner went in for permit on the garage, he/she would have provided a survey to the County that likely did not show the drainage ditch or the culvert. If these agencies were to be found responsible for this, can you imagine the future lawsuits against the County for anything that goes wrong on private property? This would set a huge precedent.

    And no, I do not work for the government.

  • jo
    January 18, 2010 - 09:48

    maybe it was a earthquake.

  • pAUL
    January 18, 2010 - 09:44

    Nice Job Bob Taylor,it appears you are forgetting how you got into office, by helping the people....Your dictated response is a typical goverment reply...
    I remember when Bob Taylor worked for the people.......in his short time as mayor it appears he has learned politiking very quickly..........cmon Bob help this famil get some answers.......

  • V
    January 18, 2010 - 09:41

    I love how the Municipality and Department of Transportation are so quick to say it is not my fault rather than work on a solution. Transportation doesn't seem to deny building the culvert -- only state they are not responsible for it now. The Municipality should never have issued building permits for that garage over top of the culvert. Legal advice sounds like the last and only alternative for this woman.

  • V
    January 18, 2010 - 09:39

    The article suggests that the previous owner was told (when he got the permit) the culvert wasn't an issue because of depth (municipality was aware of the culvert and approved the permit?) -- OR he lied and was not told that and the municipality issued the permit not knowing the culvert was there.

    STILL -- isn't the idea behind having these permits supposed to protect homeowners from this kind of thing happening? Isn't there people who check the property and work (and so on) once you pay the fee and start building? If not, why are we paying permit fees for???

  • Robert
    January 18, 2010 - 09:36

    I would like to say that if some people should get together volunnter to make up some plan to help her to get her home back. Also people get together volunnter to help to do the labour on her home. What i dont understand is what so good to have an insureance on the home like this one who wont repair the damage or help her to get a safer place to live. We all should join in and do a volunnter work to help her to make her home save. I hope that she get an answer soon.