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Class-action lawsuit filed to recoup losses from Sumas Prairie flooding in Abbotsford

Defendants were ‘grossly negligent’ in failing to properly warn residents, lawsuit states
The floodwaters that swept over Abbotsford’s Sumas Prairie, starting on Nov. 14, destroyed Ripples Winery on Tolmie Road along with houses and barns on the property. (Photo by Caroline Mostertman)

A class-action lawsuit has been filed on behalf of residents of Sumas Prairie to recoup losses from catastrophic flooding that hit the area in November.

The lawsuit alleges that the City of Abbotsford, the Fraser Valley Regional District and the provincial government were “grossly negligent” in failing to warn residents about the impending flood in a timely manner.

Sumas Prairie began flooding on Nov. 14 following severe rainfall after the Nooksack River in Washington State overflowed its banks and flowed northeast into Abbotsford.

Breaches in the Sumas Dike – which normally hold back floodwaters – resulted in those waters coursing across farmland, impacting some 1,100 properties.

The lawsuit states that the first evacuation order for Sumas Prairie – for the area not guarded by the Sumas Dike – was issued at 11 p.m. on Nov. 14.

An evacuation order for the area guarded by the dike was issued at 5 a.m. on Nov. 16, the lawsuit indicates.

RELATED: Immediate evacuation order for Sumas Prairie due to landslide in Abbotsford

“Residents of the Sumas Prairie, who had not been adequately notified of the impending disaster, watched helplessly as ravenous floodwaters tore through their land, burying their personal property and destroying their crops and farmland,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit was filed by property owners Caroline Mostertman and Ted Dykman on behalf of those who own, or have an interest in, land on Sumas Prairie.

They allege that the defendants “failed to implement emergency measures and warnings when they knew or ought to have known that a flood impacting the Sumas Prairie was the foreseeable consequence of the weather preceding the Sumas flood.”

They state that adequate warning would have enabled residents to move their equipment and animals to higher ground, and mitigate or prevent their losses.

“(The defendants) could have reinforced the Sumas Dike, which was known to be extremely vulnerable to flooding, just as they sandbagged and protected the Barrowtown Pump Station when it was at risk of flooding in the days after the start of the Sumas flood,” the lawsuit states.

The suit states that the defendants were well aware of the history of flooding in the area and should have been better prepared when Environment Canada issued warnings on Nov. 12 that severe rainfall was due to hit the area between Nov. 13 and 16.

The lawsuit references three previous major floods that impacted Sumas Prairie.

In May 1894, rapid snowfall spurred by hot spring conditions caused the water levels in the Fraser River to rise dramatically. The river breached its banks and flooded areas from Harrison to Richmond.

The flood was the largest ever recorded in the Lower Mainland.

The Fraser River again breached its banks in May 1948, resulting in the destruction of 2,300 houses, extreme damage to railways, the evacuation of 16,000 people and more than $250 million in damages in today’s dollars.

The third flood occurred in November 1990, when heavy rainfall caused the Nooksack River to overflow it banks, resulting in Highway 1 being closed for 26 hours and thousands of people on both sides of the border being forced to evacuate from their homes.

The lawsuit states that a government report in July 2015 gave the Sumas Dike a rating of one out of four – the lowest possible grade – and deemed it “unacceptable.”

The report also found that the dike was more than two feet lower than it should be.

RELATED: Dikes unlikely to withstand a major flood event: report

“The report left no questions about whether the Sumas Dike was effective enough to withstand future flooding … The report, commissioned by the province, made it clear that if the Nooksack River were to overflow again, which it had many times in the past, it would pose a severe risk of harm to individuals and their property in the Sumas Prairie,” the lawsuit states.

“…At the time of the Sumas flood of 2021, there were policies in place to fix the diking system in the Sumas Prairie that had yet to be implemented.”

Mostertman and her family own Ripples Winery, New Wave Distilling and Woodbridge Ponds. Dykman owns Dykman Cattle Co.

RELATED: Abbotsford farmer and winery owner shares thoughts on devastating flood losses

Both suffered extreme damages to their homes and properties, as well as the loss of inventory, equipment, vehicles, hay and grain, and more.

They are seeking damages that include personal injury, loss of income, cost of future care, loss of residential and commercial property, loss of personal property and diminished value of property.

Three unnamed companies are also listed in the lawsuit as having been “in charge of monitoring the potential for a flood and/or initiating an emergency response when the risk of a flood was detected.”

The notice of civil claim was filed Thursday (Dec. 23) in B.C. Supreme Court in Abbotsford. None of the defendants have yet filed a response nor have any of the allegations been proved in court.

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Vikki Hopes

About the Author: Vikki Hopes

I have been a journalist for almost 40 years, and have been at the Abbotsford News since 1991.
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