• John Jantak

Chaline Valley resident proposes launching class action lawsuit against St. Lazare


PHOTO BY JOHN JANTAK

St. Lazare’s Chaline Valley residents ask provincial and municipal officials questions about the landslide zone following a presentation that tried to reassure homeowners that there is no imminent possibility of a landslide in the near future.

A Chaline Valley resident is considering forming a committee of area residents to determine whether homeowners whose houses may be affected by potential landslides would benefit from fi ling a class action lawsuit against the Town of St. Lazare.

Jean Stutsman, an American expatriate who attended a public information meeting for Chaline Valley residents last Wednesday evening, May 15, noted that provincial Ministry of Transport (MTQ) engineer Janelle Potvin revealed that a substantial landslide occurred in Chaline Valley in 1973.

The meeting, which was designed to ease homeowners’ fears about possible landslides in the residential area, primarily affecting houses adjacent to the slopping hillside that winds down towards the Quinchien River, did little to ease to residents’ anxieties even though reassurances were made by provincial officials that there is no foreseeable risk of a landslide occurring anytime in the near future.

“I’m not assured by anything that was said at the meeting,” said Stutsman. “The government said they’ve know about this problem since 1973. If they’ve known about this since then, who actually owns the land in the ravine and who owns the river? To me, the problem squarely rests with the Town of St. Lazare because they should never have granted anyone permission to develop anything in this area.”

When Stutsman directed her inquiry regarding ownership of the land to the panel of provincial and municipal representatives at the meeting during a question period following the MTQ presentation, nobody was able to provide an answer.

“It’s the owner of that land who’s responsible along with the town to fi x this problem because the town sold people properties in the area knowing that it was unsafe,” said Stutsman. “They’ve collected taxes for X number of years from all the people in this area when they knew there was a problem. Th is area should never have been developed.

“People are kind of presuming that it’s actually the Town of St. Lazare that owns this land,” Stutsman added. “It’s not just the people in Chaline Valley who have to shoulder the risk and cost – it’s not our responsibility – it’s the responsibility of the landowner. My point of view as an American is not that we want to sue people, but oftentimes you bring a lawsuit as a collective to provoke immediate action.”

Her onus on a possible class action lawsuit is to try to spur the town into taking immediate action to remedy the situation which would be less costly than a court case. At recent council meetings, several residents have also tried to urge St. Lazare officials to start work to stabilize the slope and prevent further erosion along the riverbanks.

She also criticized the town for not inviting all Chaline Valley residents to the meeting. “I’m not overly emotional about this because my house is not affected, but it’s interesting that the invitations were sent only to people in the danger zone. All the roads leading to the unaffected houses are in the danger zone so more people need to be aware of this if we’re going to do a class action.”

Originally from Minnesota, Stutsman is optimistic that a solution could be found that would benefit residents and the town.

“If there are measures that we could take to shore up the land and turn that beautiful waterway and those areas of Chaline Valley into a public park like they have in Minnesota along their rivers, I think that this could end up as an absolutely beautiful win-win situation for everybody,” said Stutsman. “But it’s going to take money to invest to solve the problem.”