Langford has no control over blasting, says city planner
When Derek Galon and his wife Margaret first heard the explosion that made their house shudder, their dishes shatter and pictures shake off the wall, they thought it was an earthquake.
The couple had lived in their Langford home on Walfred Road for eight years and had never felt anything like it. Moments later, they realized it was a construction blast from the developers at a neighbouring property. What they didn’t know then was that it would be the first of many for at least the next four years — and that slowly those blasts would destroy their 1970s house.
“I’ve lived through many upheavals and even civil threats in my life and it’s not easy to put me on edge, but this is very stressful,” says Galon, 54, who’s originally from Poland. “Part of the reason I moved to Canada was because of its beauty and calm environment, but the total disrespect I see for nature and for others is shocking and saddening. People here think they can do whatever they want.”
The Galons have been living with a single blast a week to three blasts a day since 2007, when the property development began. There is no warning. While the disturbance was clear from the get go, Galon first noticed structural damage to his home only a few weeks after the blasts started, when a large crack appeared in his living room ceiling. Since then, Galon has seen cracks in the exterior and interior walls, his chimney and in the cement foundation of his house.
Galon remembers the quiet setting, the thick trees, the wildlife that would scuttle past and the choir of birds that would accompany the family every day when he and his wife moved in back in 2003. Now, they’re considering selling the home they spent their lives looking for.
“We are being surrounded by new development and it’s totally changing the look of the neighbourhood,” he says. “We see our neighbours selling their houses and the atmosphere has lost its appeal to everyone.”
Galon isn’t the only neighbour in the Walfred area who is suffering the effects. Len McIlwrick, 53, has lived in the area since 1990. While he says his house has not suffered any damage, his property, tree line and peace of mind has.
“Usually, Langford never says no to anything when it comes to development, and that’s part of the problem,” says McIlwrick, who adds that he supports development on a whole. “They’ve been blasting 40-feet into the rock on the edge of my property, you hear drilling and blasting all day sometimes, and you just have no idea what you’re in for.”
McIlwrick had a technician associate who works with sound actually measure the decibels that came from the construction. He found that the Sound Pressure Level (SPL) meter rated the blasts at 101 db from over 100 feet away — something akin to standing next to a subway train.
“All of these developers seem to operate by telling you it’s all within code and ‘we’re not as bad as the other guy,’ but that’s just how it starts,” says McIlwrick. “Now, I’m experiencing mini-earthquakes every day, and I have 100-foot to 150-foot trees on my tree line — these beautiful 200-year-old cedars — with half their roots missing because the developers cut them back.”
McIlwrick says he has been offered over $1 million for his site, but refused the offer outright. While he is concerned about the trees, increase in traffic, population density and the continued destruction, he plans on waiting it out.
Paul Emery of Gem Garden Homes is one of the lead developers on the Walfred site near McIlwrick’s house. The feedback that he’s heard from neighbours, he “wouldn’t class as complaints,” and says he has “no problem” with the blasting his company does, adding that some companies are much worse. However, he does acknowledge that some residents are put out.
“There are some neighbours here who are not happy with the changes, and they’re planning on dying here, so there’s not much chance they’ll be selling anytime soon,” says Emery. “But they aren’t going to like it no matter what happens, and that’s really too bad.”
Emery lives on-site in one of the newly constructed homes. He says he’s had blasting done within one metre of his location and has never experienced a problem. He does admit that blasting can affect a house, but that engineers are used to ensure the impact is unnoticeable.
“I’ve been there for five years with this project, and I’ve been around construction my whole life so it doesn’t bother me. It’s something you just have to deal with for a little while, and then it’s over. We’ve achieved our goal here.”
Emery says he’s not willing to discuss the tree-root incident, though he says it has been resolved and adds that “there are always three sides to every story: yours, theirs and the real story.”
“For sure the neighbourhood has changed, but all of it is in good ways. Now we have nice, affordable housing in a great neighbourhood,” Emery says. “Naturally, you’re going to get people’s backs up because people don’t like change, but Langford is a great destination.”
When it comes to help from the city, both Galon and McIlwrick say they’ve pleaded with Langford City Council and other city officials countless times with little traction.
While the regional council members refused to speak on the issue, Matthew Baldwin, Langford city planner, says that the city recently granted a temporary permit for the developers to find ways to dispose of the debris caused by blasting, but adds the city has no control over the blasting itself.
“[Blasting] is provincially regulated by WorkSafe B.C., and by the insurance companies,” says Baldwin. “The city does not regulate blasting and has no control over it.”
Baldwin acknowledges that some residents have attended council meetings to complain about the blasting and have informed council of the damage to their properties that they believe is from the blasting. However, Baldwin says there is little evidence to prove that is so.
“The sites have been developed according to the official community plan,” Baldwin says.
When asked for further details of what the official community plan involved, Baldwin refused to comment, and said he has “no idea where things are going” and “cannot predict the future.” Baldwin has been the city planner since 2008, and must approve all proposed city developmental plans. He also stated “I’m not answering that question” when asked about his thoughts on how the developments on Walfred Road are affecting the municipality, though he did later state that the blasting and construction has not affected him personally.
“Langford has more park and open space than a lot of other municipalities in B.C.,” he says. “You do have people impacted by blasting, but it’s a necessary part of developing land. The owners of the properties are entitled to do what they want with their land. The blasting is a matter between two parties — the developers and the residents.”
Galon has had an insurance agent out to his property multiple times, though he has been advised to wait on repairs until the neighbouring construction is finished — so far, that time line for completion is unclear. He’s also had a geo-engineer inspect the seismic damage inflicted by the blastings, and learned that while many blasters work within ground vibration levels of zero to 15 millimetres per second, some heritage houses will crack at levels of five or less.
While the neighbours are collectively considering legal action, the lack of support municipally has been a deterrent. Galon says, if nothing else, he wishes to highlight the effects of this type of construction, both for the current residents and for others in a similar situation.
“I think the most painful thing to watch is the total disrespect to surroundings, be it to wildlife, landscape, or neighbours,” he says. “If a developer lacks the vision to see the beautiful potential of an area, it should be the role of the city to control and promote such values. Without it, there will always be silly people just looking for a quick money grab that proves disastrous for the whole neighbourhood in the long run.” M