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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26

Cherry Bomb

Nathan Raine
Published Thursday June 11, 05:25 pm
Why has the City washed its hands of the Nutana slope failure?

Just off the east riverbank, tucked between 11th Street and Saskatchewan Crescent, is the inaptly named Cherry Lane (there are no cherries to be found). What you will find on the narrow lane, though, are completely overgrown trees and bush, concrete broken and ripped from the shifting earth, and retaining walls that have crumbled and fallen over.

Oh, and a homemade sign marking each end of the neglected lane reading “Atchison Lane.”

After two-plus years of trying to find a resolution to the Nutana slope failure, City Council recently decided to simply keep monitoring the situation, rather than take action. The decision is unanimously unpopular amongst the hundreds of affected residents, as the slope failure has already caused considerable damage to many homes and properties. The City's decision also brings the fear that many homeowners will lose their properties and houses altogether.

Kent Rathwell, a homeowner on Sask. Crescent and member of the slump failure committee, says the Nutana's slope failure and subsequent property damage has largely been caused by the City's improper use of Cherry Lane.

“The City has been using the alley as part of their storm water system. This has been happening for a very long time in the alley, but was never addressed,” he says.

Rathwell explains that when it rains, the City pumps water down the alley, even though it has never been engineered to function as a storm water system. Consequently, that water has been overflowing into the private properties on the slopes and washing the riverbank away.

“Numerous studies and reports have said, 'Don’t add water here.' That's really the main premise of our complaints. The City was saying that this is not a City problem, that the damage is occurring on private property and that 'We don’t fix private property,'” says Rathwell.

The options the City was previously weighing included building a rocky foundation at a cost of over $20 million, buying many of the properties from the owners on the slope and tearing them down at a cost of $17 million, or doing nothing. They chose the latter.

“We even spent money on engineers to come up with a concept to stabilize it. The City came up with a $20 million solution. We came up with an $8 million one. We were working with the two best, most respected engineering firms in the province and presented the plan to the City. They just ignored it,” says Rathwell.

With the state of disrepair in Cherry Lane, residents need the City to fix the lane before they go ahead and fix their own properties, otherwise further slumping would again occur. This is one of the unfulfilled requests the residents have of the City.

“We want the City to stabilize their property and prevent it from causing more damage on our properties. We also want them to insure that the City's storm water is not coming on to our properties and damaging our properties. And we want access to Cherry Lane, so we can get equipment to fix our properties,” says Rathwell. “They are leaders in this city and have the opportunity to show leadership and own up to the problems they've created. They should be fixing those problems.”

Multiple requests to speak to City administration were declined.

“Council made their decision,” said Mark Rogstad of City of Saskatoon Media Relations. “City administration has nothing more to add to the issue.”

With the way the City has responded, it appears that they have now decided to wash their hands of the problem. But Rathwell suspects that they were never really invested at all.

“Looking back now, it almost appears that the City had planned from day one that they would not do anything. Because the very day the statute of limitations expired was the day that they said they were going to shut the alley down and not do anything. Which means, in essence, we can't do anything [legally],” says Rathwell.

And he isn't the only one who feels this way about how the City has navigated the slope failure with its affected residents. Bryan Roset, a resident on Saskatchewan Crescent for over 30 years, echoes Rathwell's disappointment with the City's ultimately apathetic decision.

“For two years the City was telling us they were a partner and stakeholder in this problem. And they always discouraged us from discussing it with the media,” says Roset. “Then after two years they make the decision to abandon Cherry Lane. We were very disappointed, both personally and collectively as a neighbourhood. We're now forced to pay for property damage that isn't our fault.”

The residents there are stuck between a rock and a hard place: Fixing their own properties is futile until the much-damaged Cherry Lane is repaired, but the City is showing no intention of touching Cherry Lane.

“They've washed their hands of this and left us on our own. We feel abandoned by the City,” says Roset. “What happens if the slope failure doesn’t stop at 11th? How much damage are they prepared to allow until they step in and do what they have to do?”

Again, the City declined multiple interview requests.

“Property values there have essentially gone down to zero,” says Mike McKague, president of the Nutana Community Association.

“Many of the affected residents are elderly, or simply families where this is all they have. So the options are walk away and not pay the bank on your mortgage, or pay a mortgage on a worthless property and be forced to live somewhere else at the same time, which is what many people are stuck doing,” he says.

“It's been poor leadership and poor management on the part of the City,” says McKague, a belief expressed almost verbatim by Rathwell and Roset. “It's an example of an ostrich sticking its head in the sand. The City doesn't give a damn.”

Although these are only voices from one side of the story, they’re the only voices that seem willing to talk about it. That in itself should be quite telling.

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