Doug Harvey and his dog Salty

Jordan River residents may be forced to sell their homes

BC Hydro report considers the area an extreme earthquake hazard

Doug Harvey isn’t moving, he doesn’t want to sell his house and he wants to stay exactly where he is in Jordan River.

On December 5 residents of the small community of about 11 homes and businesses stretched along Highway 14 received a letter from BC Hydro offering to purchase their homes.

“Yes, isn’t that nice of them,” said Harvey. “They offered to buy our properties at this stage. I don’t want to sell, if I did I would have a for sale sign out.”

The letters to the residents came as a result of new information in regard to a completed seismic study given to BC Hydro. In the letter it states that, “a major earthquake could put the Jordan River system dam, downstream properties and infrastructure at a higher risk than previously understood. A major earthquake is one that causes considerable damage to buildings with collapsing, falling walls, broken walls, twisting and falling chimneys and other structures.”

The area has been declared a tsunami zone. BC Hydro states they have been working with the Juan de Fuca Emergency Program to share information and ensure that emergency plans reflect the seismic hazard.

BC Hydro representatives will be meeting with the residents on December 12 and representatives will be arranging individual meeting with property owners.

Harvey has been in the area for most of his working life. He worked for Western Forest Products for 35 years and is now retired. He said there are a couple of others who worked for WFP living in Jordan River as well.

“Our properties are totally devalued and some people feel stuck between a rock and a hard place… I haven’t digested it yet.”

Harvey theorizes that BC Hydro will buy up the town and the first step is to offer up and buy out what property they can. He said they could also expropriate the properties.

“We haven’t heard the end of it… they’ve pretty much screwed us. I’m not selling now,” said Harvey. He said BC Hydro was offering market value plus 5 per cent.

Life would change for Harvey. Right now he said he has ocean front property without the ocean front taxes and he can launch a boat and go fishing whenever he wants. He said the community is made up of friends and this is a “disruption to say the least.”

He also said the restaurant Breakers just sold in the last couple of weeks and they wouldn’t be too impressed. Another small business just opened as well along the strip of highway.

Jordan River has nine homes, one of which is a B&B and two have newly started up restaurants on them and there are two unimproved properties. There are three industrial properties consisting of a dry land sort and associated operations, one utility property and two park properties operated by the CRD.

Juan de Fuca Regional Director Mike Hicks is reeling from the news. He said it is devastating and it has huge ramifications.

“The solution in my view is for BC Hydro to upgrade the dam, number one, and to compensate the property owners because they’ve destroyed the value, buy them out at fair market value and give them life estate and allow them to stay until they die or choose to leave.”

Hicks said the residents would have to sign an agreement with no recourse in case of a quake. He mentioned the camping at the CRD  campground and if it is not allowed then BC Hydro should purchase the park as well. “If we can’t camp we should be compensated as well until they fix the dam. It supplies 35 per cent of the Island’s power. He said if the dam comes down with a magnitude 9 or greater earthquake, what’s going to be hurt? The people in the houses, on the dry land sort, school buses  and drivers on the road, campers, they will all die. Of risk as well is the spawning gravel in Jordan River.

“Vancouver Island will have 35 per cent less hydro, why wouldn’t you fix it,” asked Hicks.

The plan to purchase homes at Jordan River came about after a six-year $10-million study on major earthquake hazards. The study involved 25 international experts using the latest scientific information on earthquakes.

Chris O’Riley, Executive Vice President of Generation for BC Hydro, said the challenge in Jordan River is that it had the highest seismic hazard in the province and likely in the country. “By comparison it had two-and-a-half times the movement with a comparable risk in the Lower Mainland.”

He said they looked at the strength of the dam and it wasn’t feasible, practical or cost effective to rebuild the dam. Lowering the dam reservoir was also not an option. The challenge is the high earthquake hazard.

Other dams were looked at including one in Campbell River.  Their long-term plan for that dam is to upgrade the seismic strength of the facilities and reduce the risk over time. Another dam in Bridge River will have the reservoir lowered.

The outcome and approach BC Hydro is taking is to buy those properties, remove the houses and have no permanent residents downstream.

O’Riley said he understands the Jordan River residents’  response.

He said they recognize it is a difficult message to have someone show up at your door on a Thursday evening offering to buy your house.

“We respect that and want to give them time to understand, process it and let it soak in. Our goal is to come to a mutual agreement.”

He also said they want to have a broader conversation about emergency preparedness.

“We’re all in this together,” O’Riley said.

Jordan River was established as a logging camp in the late 19th century and has Vancouver Island’s second hydroelectric power plant.  It collects water at Diversion Dam. The hydroelectric plant was built in 1911 and at the time Jordan River was home to more than 1,000 workers.

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