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."