City assessing liability for crumbling retaining wall

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The City of St. Albert will hire an engineering firm to assess whether it is liable for damage to a 100-foot-long retaining wall along Oakhill Place.

On Sept. 11, councillors agreed to commit up to $30,000 from the city’s stabilization reserve for the study, after receiving a confidential report from administration on the matter.

The decision comes after two families in the area asked the city for a total of $250,000 to remediate the retaining wall, which they believe was damaged due to an insufficient city-built swale behind their properties.

City staff noted there are legal issues involved.

On Aug. 28, Stacy Schmidt and Kelsey, Jackie and Marvin Fehr told councillors they have had drainage issues on their properties since they moved in in 2006 and 2007.

They said a swale built behind their properties by city contractors was too shallow to handle the amount of water running into their backyards. The swale was designed to move water to a storm sewer at the end of the street.

The families worked together to build a retaining wall at the back of their properties in 2008, complete with weeping tile, geogrid and washrock.

But water and mud continued to flow into their backyards, they said, and eventually the retaining wall began to fail, bulging out in places and cracking elsewhere.

“Many a rainy night, I would be up on top of my hill with (Marvin Fehr) on top of his, and we would be shovelling mud out of the swale so it would sort of function – but it didn’t,” said Schmidt.

“Water would literally pour into our backyards.”

The residents said they have been in close contact with the city’s engineering department for years about the problems and in September 2016 the city hired Associated Engineering to complete a study which showed that if the swale was underbuilt, runoff could accumulate behind the wall and damage it.

That report was not available at press time as it first had to be reviewed by the city’s legislative services department.

The city rebuilt the swale in question in 2014. Alex Seeply, acting city engineer, said there are still some minor parts outstanding on that project but it is mostly finished.

Coun. Cathy Heron, who put forward the motion on Sept. 11, said the new study council has funded will differ from Associated Engineering’s study because it will focus on assessing liability.

“If we’re liable as a city, absolutely, we’ll pay. Even if we’re not … we’ll enter into negotiations to see what’s fair for all parties,” Heron said.

Although Heron’s motion does not specify an amount, it states the negotiations would be for “a contribution from the city to the costs of remedial measures.”

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