One year later, landslide risk remains
by JULIE CADIEUX
ST. LAZARE — A year after a spectacular train derailment blocked Canadian Pacific’s main east-west line for 72 hours, municipal officials are quietly reassessing landslide risk factors in adjacent areas.
Although the Canadian Transportation Safety Board has yet to release its report, heavy rain and an illegal drainage ditch are the prime suspects in the Sept. 23 landslide that caused the derailment of a westbound CP freight train about a mile east of the St. Louis level crossing into Chaline Valley.
The entire clay hillside swept down onto the CP right of way, derailing both locomotives and the first 11 cars of the 58-unit train. St. Lazare first responders and firefighters needed extrication tools to free the two-man crew, neither of whom were injured. It took emergency crews several days working around the clock to reopen the double track.
At no time was there any risk to nearby residents from the train or its cargo, CP and local officials insisted. However, Chaline residents were forced to use the dirt emergency route between Chaline and Chemin St-Fereol while St-Louis remained closed.
Some Chaline residents are learning that they will never be able to construct a cabin, put in pool or extend their homes for fear they might slide into one of the ravines draining into the Quinchien River. The slope behind these particular homes is steep, but most residents had no idea that the town of St. Lazare deemed the area ‘at risk of landslides’ in 2008.
The discovery was made earlier this summer by a resident who applied to the town’s urban planning department for a permit to install a pool.
Instead, the resident, who asked to remain anonymous, was informed he couldn’t have the permit because the risk sector had been moved from behind his property line to the street in front of his home. He was shocked and immediately put his concerns and questions in a letter to the town.
“I’m wondering how this will effect my home’s worth, can I even sell it,” he pondered. “Have I even been properly insured this entire time?
“And what about taxes? If the value of my home has dropped I have definitely been paying too much property tax.”
He has already hired a land surveyor to double-check his property lines and the next step, he says, “is to get a geotechnical study, but that costs $5,000.”
He also plans to seek legal advice, “but I want to see what the town has to say first.” A geotechnical study investigates and analyzes the soil, hydro-geology and foundation of a property and he hopes it will reveal that his home is not located in a high risk landslide area.
Since last year’s CP derailment and complaints about drainage, the municipality has been contouring the area’s ditches and replacing driveway conduits to ensure better drainage.
St. Lazare’s director of urban planning Annie Lévesque explained that when Vaudreuil-Soulanges MRC added this particular sector of St. Lazare as a landslide and flood risk in 2008, the municipality was required to make the necessary amendments to their own urban planning maps.
Lévesque said the change was made public at a council meeting as well as in a published notice. She says there is no reason for residents in the area to be alarmed and could not comment specifically on the home owner who was told he could not put in a pool.
But she did say that if a resident’s home did fall within this “at risk sector” they could submit to the town a land-surveyor’s report on their property. If the report was favourable, then the town could allow steps to be made towards, a pool, home addition or shed following a geotechnician’s report.
The soil-stability issue is a major factor in planning the new institutional park, home to a projected regional hospital immediately to the south of where last year’s CP landslide took place. Initial surveys suggest half the 650-hectare site is either too wet or unstable.
In neighbouring Vaudreuil-Dorion, the latest zoning map shows a landslip area running alongside Harwood Blvd. (Hwy 342) from east of Highway 540 to just west of Exit 26 off the 40. Over the years, several house-threatening landslips have been reported along that escarpment.
Deforestation is a major risk factor, says Alain Liard, managing director of Quebec’s Order of Geologists. “Deforestation changes the way the land drains…keeping trees along slopes offers some protections from landslides.”
In Hudson, where the owners of properties along Main Road west of Côte St. Charles have seen their back yards slumping down onto the AMT right of way, land reclamation contractor Chris Adams has been hired for another hillside-stabilization project.
Adams was in town in April to work with pioneer B.C. bioengineer David Polster on a live-fencing solution behind 612 Main. Since then, he’s been hired for similar projects in the Laurentians. —with files from Jim Duff
The Hudson St. Lazare Gazette – September 28, 2011 – Julie Cadieux