Sixteen years of legal wrangling over ravine issue
Dump trucks are rolling through Bradner – as many as 150 rigs will come to a property on Marsh McCormick Road on a busy Saturday, and dump loads of fill down a steep bank. By the time the project is finished – and it has been underway for six weeks – property owner Gene Drader will have thousands of loads of clean, free fill poured into a deep ravine on his 10-acre rural property.
Assuming completion, it will be the culmination of 16 years of legal wrangling with city hall, which has not issued a permit for the current work.
Neighbours have complained about the nuisance of traffic and dust. On Oct. 1, they used their vehicles to block Bradner Road, and displayed signs that said “Local residents only,” and “The city of Abbotsford does nothing.”
Dump trucks were backed up, and eventually police ordered those blocking the road to disperse.
Drader is filling in the ravine – at a personal cost of approximately $1 million.
“I’m trying to save my land,” he said.
The project comes after some 16 years of litigation with the City of Abbotsford. He has argued in court that the city diverted water onto his property, destabilizing the slope and causing landslides.
He operates a heli-logging business, and there are three choppers and a helicopter hangar on the site. In 1996, Drader was in his office when he felt the ground shaking. It was a landslide that saw mud and trees tumble 150 metres, covering the CN Rail tracks below.
He said he lost approximately an acre of land.
Drader blamed the city, and launched legal action. In 2001, the parties reached an out-of-court settlement.
“It was settled with the understanding that I would never have a problem again,” he contends.
In 2004, more heavy rain caused flooding that damaged his driveway and caused more slippages in the ravine. Drader said the 2001 agreement contained a dispute resolution mechanism in case of such an event, but the city refused to engage in such talks.
2006 saw another flooding and erosion event. The city repaired Drader’s driveway, but would not accept responsibility for slope destabilization.
Drader once again turned to the courts. He sued the city for nuisance, negligence and breach of contract.
There was a three-week trial. Drader asked for $1,288,000, including $160,000 for past damages, $578,000 for full stabilization of the slope as per his engineer’s recommendation, $500,000 in aggravated and punitive damages and $50,000 for mental distress. There was also a less expensive option for stabilization, pegged at $366,000.
The city argued it has a legal right to divert road surface water into any natural creek or ravine, as per the Local Government Act. City lawyers said Drader caused the slope instability by logging the site.
The judge took 10 months to render a decision in favour of the city. It included the city’s legal costs to be paid by Drader. He plans to appeal.
In the meanwhile, he is filling in the ravine, and his legal advice is that he isn’t breaking any laws.
Drader hired a geotechnical engineer to oversee the project, has a bulldozer on the site, and trucks come and go several times an hour. He has a street sweeper on Marsh McCormick to clean it up, and keep the dust down, at his own expense.
Abbotsford Mayor Bruce Banman refused to comment on the lawsuit between the city and Drader, but said he should get a soil permit.
He said the city needs assurance that contaminated soils are not being dumped at the property during this “fairly massive undertaking,” and the soil permit process is a way for the municipality to track it.
Banman said Drader’s neighbours are justifiably upset, and that he should take their blockade of Bradner Road as a sign that it is time for “cooler heads to prevail.”
The mayor said the city will take legal action to make him cease and desist.
Despite a city stop-work order posted at his gate, “I’m not stopping,” Drader told The News.