Residents along Anderson Place are losing their back yards to slides, and said bigger trains rumbling past the neighbourhood, combined with heavy rains, may be at fault. (Neil Corbett/THE NEWS)

Maple Ridge backyards sliding over bluff

Echoes of Haney Slide in 1880 and another.

Some properties along the Fraser River in Maple Ridge are losing their backyards.

David McFee and Maureen Willey own a heritage house on Anderson Place, off River Road near Laity Street, and the back part of their lawn has sloughed away, down a bank overlooking the CP Rail tracks.

Willey said she heard a big “ka-thud” sound in the middle of the night, as a section of her yard and the neighbour’s fell into the railway right of way, taking fencing and landscaping ties with it.

The couple speculates that longer and heavier trains, which have been shaking houses in the neighbourhood, combined with drenching rains to compromise the stability of the slope.

“We don’t want to point blame, but we do want to work together to come up with a solution,” said Willey.

She said there is a danger that the bluff could fall and block the CPR tracks, or even trees could fall across them or onto trains.

McFee said CP representatives have come and looked at the site, but he has been frustrated getting the lines of communication open with either the railway or the city.

They have lived in the house for two years. It is the Sparling House, built in 1928, and is included in the city’s heritage inventory.

McFee said he realized when he moved in that any slope is “active,” and can be expected to fall, but said to suddenly lose a significant part of your property, leaving an unstable slop in its place, has been “a bit of a shock.”

He put a tarp down to cover the backyard area, to try and mitigate the effects of the recent heavy rains.

McFee believes pilings and a retaining wall could be a fix, but access to the site will be an issue, because machinery would damage his lawn and be working from atop an unstable slope. There is also the issue of who pays for it.

Willey is worried to be out on her back deck, and one corner of it is now just a couple of steps from the edge.

Chuck Goddard, city manager of development and environmental services, recalled the Haney Slide of Jan. 30, 1880.

A section of hillside, approximately 20 acres of land on the Justus W. Howison farm, slipped into the Fraser River near Port Haney, not far from the heritage house.

It was so massive the slide caused a huge wave, and havoc on the south bank of the Fraser.

Langley farmer William Edge was killed after his farm flooded, and he was swept up in water, ice and debris, according to the Maple Ridge Museum’s memoirs by James Sinclair, the first school teacher in the municipality.

Edge died of his injuries several days later.

The Ewen fishery company had its dock and sheds destroyed, and on Eduard Muench’s farm a dock, boats and buildings were wrecked.

There was high water reported several kilometers upriver from the epic slide, which partially blocked the river.

“We all know that slope is active,” said Goddard. “They’re in the escarpment area, where slope failures have happened in the past.”

He said the city installed storm sewers on River Road to direct water away from that area, to help stop erosion on the escarpment.

Goddard said the Sparling House property was subdivided in 1980 to create the lot to the east – which is also losing ground to sloughing.

The Anderson Place subdivision was created in 1979.

He said council has not considered slope stabilization works in the escarpment area.

“It would be a massive undertaking of taxpayer money for private interest,” Goddard said.

If the subdivision were done according to modern geotechnical setbacks, which consider soil conditions and other factors, he believes the houses would all be set back farther from the banks.

“Everyone wants to be close to the line, for views of the river. But it’s not a rock bluff, it’s a clay bluff.”

CP takes rail safety, and the safety of the communities we operate in very seriously, said Mallory McCredie, media relations advisor.

“CP continues to monitor the site in question and is not presently aware of any safety risk to the public or to railway operations. Furthermore, our operations in this location are in full compliance with regulations. Should the property owner have other concerns, he may wish to retain a qualified geotechnical engineer to assess his property.”

Part of Maria and Tracy Raynolds’ property, in the 21400-block of River Road, sloughed off after heavy rains in March 2007. Mud and sand slid and piled onto the CP Rail tracks, stopping a 69-car freight train.

Three families along River Road were temporarily evacuated then.

That incident renewed calls for storm sewers in the area.

In March 2005, Dr. Kwando Asante led a petition to get storm sewers there following a 2004 report by Golder Associates, citing increased development and vibrations from heavier trains as safety concerns.