The government Barrier to Garibaldi
Sweeping Away A Town, Part Two
By Stephen Vogler
Garibaldi wasn’t the first town in B.C. to be closed down and wiped off the map by the provincial government. Hydro-electric projects in the Kootenays have left once thriving hamlets under 50 feet of water — their houses, streets and churches abandoned to aquatic forms of life. But in the case of Garibaldi, the government didn’t follow its own proper procedures for providing the residents with a fair buy-out and relocation plan. Whether this was just pure government bungling in their haste to close the town, or an organized attempt to keep the cost of the buy-out down may never be known. What is known is that the Ratepayers Association of Garibaldi, unable to get fair treatment from the government, was forced to go to the Ombudsman’s office.
In The Great Barrier Grief, a publication put out by members of the community, the embattled citizens of Garibaldi outlined their unfair treatment at the hands of the government. The buy-out plan, it reported, "put an unreasonable deadline on acceptance of the purchase price, in effect, saying that if they didn’t sell out by Dec. 30 (just six months) they would never be compensated, could never sell or will their land."
In his report, Ombudsman Karl Freidman stated that residents were "pressured unfairly" into selling their land, that in many cases the government offers were well below standard, unreasonable time limits were imposed on completion of sale, citizens were not given complete and accurate information and the government wouldn’t commit to a relocation plan. Finally, the Ombudsman stated in his report to Cabinet: "The complainants’ most basic beliefs in justice and fairness have been badly shaken and resolute corrective action is required to restore their belief in such basic values as justice, fairness and equity."
The Ombudsman’s report helped many Garibaldi residents get a fairer buy-out deal and also spurred on the relocation plan to Black Tusk Village, a few kilometres to the north. But many residents wondered why their town was being closed down at all. The Order in Council to create a civil defense zone where the town of Garibaldi stood was based on the Report of the Garibaldi Advisory Panel, a study of the Barrier commissioned by the Ministry of Highways. But that report stated: "However, in view of the panel, it is neither practical nor reasonable to completely abandon the area to all development."
In the Barrier Grief, Garibaldi residents also questioned why their town would be closed down when it only represented a small percentage of the public affected by the alleged danger of the Barrier. They pointed out that the highway and railway, as well as the B.C. Hydro transmission lines and the Daisy Lake Dam, all occupied land within the civil defense zone. Rather than being closed down and re-routed, the Barrier Grief stated, "the present dam and highway are even being upgraded."
At the heart of the Garibaldi issue lies the question of just how safe or dangerous the Barrier really is. It is over this question that the story becomes most intriguing, the controversy most heated. The Barrier Grief questions the scientific validity of the Barrier Report, calling it a "document full of erroneous information based on the misconceptions of people not qualified to make judgements affecting the life of this area." The paper says that two of the three scientists on the panel were "soil scientists from Edmonton with no experience in rock mechanics." It claims the report ignores studies done by the late Dr. Karl Terzaghi (an internationally recognized stability expert who studied the area for the B.C. Electric Company prior to the building of the Daisy Lake Dam), as well as those done by Charles O. Brawner, a professional engineer from Vancouver who had worked with the National Research Council for geotechnical research, and B.C.’s Department of Highways for 10 years.
The Barrier Grief takes a detailed look at Brawner’s studies which determined that in the previous Barrier slide of 1855 (if indeed it occurred), the material moved slowly like wet cement allowing ample time for warning and evacuation. According to Brawner, this was evidenced by trees, pre-dating the slide by 150 years, still standing in the slide path which couldn’t have withstood a much faster dry rockslide. Brawner also used a scale model test to determine that debris from a dry rock collapse wouldn’t have travelled more than about one mile down the creek valley. He postulated that constant erosion from the Barrier is gradually creating a talus slope in front of the steep slope, and as the height of the Barrier gets lower, its stability should actually increase.
Perhaps the most interesting finding of Brawner was the possibility of creating an embankment across the Rubble Creek valley to prevent any catastrophic results from a Barrier slide. He proposed that the fourth lobe of the Barrier, which narrows the valley, could be blasted down to form an embankment. A water collection system would be put in place prior to the blast so that Rubble Creek could still flow under the embankment.
"Stabilization plans have been well formulated by recognized experts," stated the editorial in the Barrier Grief, "and the technology is available at a fraction of the cost already incurred in the Garibaldi buy-out attempt."
Brian Allen, one of the last residents to move out of Garibaldi, was in favour of the stabilization plan. "Well, the problem’s still there. If we have a scenario — which I personally don’t believe (I think we’re going to have constant erosion) — but if there ever was a major earthquake and a collapse of that rock face, mixed with water, we could get a repeat of 1855. I thought it was a great idea, but back then it was $5 million or $7 million or something ridiculous." While that was a substantial amount of money in 1980, the estimated cost of the Garibaldi buy-out and relocation was $14 million.
Brawner’s findings sounded good to residents of Garibaldi who wanted to keep their community intact, but other geologists (most notably, those involved with the government’s Barrier study) came up with other findings. Ken Farquharson was the engineer who first pointed out the possible threat of the Barrier to the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District. Working for Kaseko, the company which designed the Mica Dam on the Columbia River, Farquharson came across Dr. Karl Terzaghi’s studies of the Garibaldi region in the course of his research.
"He (Terzaghi) wrote a paper pointing out that when they were doing the design of Daisy Lake, they did all sorts of drillings up in Rubble Creek," Farquharson says. "They determined that there had been a whole series of slides come down Rubble Creek, and they actually oriented and designed the dam so it could withstand some degree of slide coming down Rubble Creek again."
After spending some time in the area in 1970, Farquharson saw the beginnings of a new subdivision in Garibaldi on the east side of the highway, and decided to pass on Terzaghi’s paper to the SLRD, who in turn brought it to the attention of the approving officer for the Ministry of Highways. The approving officer went to Professor Bill Mathews from the Faculty of Geology at UBC, who had made a lifetime career studying the geology of the Garibaldi region. Mathews agreed there had been a series of slides and recommended against putting in the subdivision. The developer of the subdivision, Jim Yates, then sued the government, naming the Ministry of Highways and Ken Farquharson in the suit.
The court case brought the geological debate into one room presided over by Justice Thomas Berger. All manner of scientists and studies were brought in, including those from the government’s Report of the Garibaldi Advisory Panel, as well as Charles Brawner’s studies.
"Chuck Brawner was a professional witness that was called by the developer at the trial before Berger, and he said there wasn’t a problem," Farquharson says. "I remember very clearly that the prosecutor was Sam Toy and he said, ‘Now Mr. Brawner, tell me how much time you spent on the ground up there?’ It turned out he hadn’t spent any time."
Farquharson claims that Brawner had only flown over the area in a helicopter. Charles Brawner was unable to comment because he is currently out of the country.
Vancouver lawyer Derrek Cave represented the developer Jim Yates in the court case.
"The onus was on the developer to show that there was virtually no possibility of this happening," Cave says. "It was like trying to prove a negative. The government made an administrative decision. The jurisprudence was such that the court could only overturn a decision of the Highways Department if it was overly paternalistic or unreasonable." Cave recalls flying over the area with both Charles Brawner and Justice Thomas Berger. "Berger said, ‘Well there’s some evidence that this could happen. How can I determine as a legal matter that this thing will never come down?’" Cave lost the case, but he points out that it was virtually impossible to prove that something like the Barrier would never fall down.
Doug McDonald, then owner of Alpine Lodge and long-time resident of Garibaldi, remembers other details that emerged from the trial. The three geologists who conducted the government’s Barrier study pointed to a formation in the Rubble Creek valley known as a xenolithological dirt cone. Such dirt cones are formed in high speed, air supported slides, and so the formation was used in the trial as evidence of a previous large slide.
"The fact is," McDonald laughs, "I was the one who created this xenolithological dirt cone. I had to construct a road through there for BC. Hydro one day to provide access to a tower site. About five years later, the developer over there needed a road so that he could construct a water line." The second road was about 15 feet from the first, McDonald says, and after cutting and filling a series of ridges, a stump was left sitting atop one of the ridges between the two roads. "These eminent geologists weren’t smart enough to see that something had removed the dirt from there," McDonald says.
He adds that when Attorney General Allan Williams arrived in Garibaldi to announce the closure of the town, he pointed out the facts to him about the formation of the xenolithological dirt cone. "The next day there was an excavator over there doing a test pit under this dirt cone — that’s what they said they were doing. All they did was flatten it out so that the dirt cone no longer existed. It leaves little doubt about it being a political scam."
Doug and Diane McDonald’s lives were very closely tied to the town of Garibaldi. They had owned and operated the Alpine Lodge and Lucille Lake campground since 1970 and were raising their two sons on their riverside property. They also owned over 400 acres of land upon which they hoped to build housing units. The McDonalds had much to lose in the closing down of Garibaldi and still believe the Order in Council had more to do with development dollars than public safety.
"In my opinion it was a political scam called ‘protect your investment in Whistler’," Doug says. "They (provincial government) had invested a great deal of money in Whistler, and there was quite a bit of government money committed to further things in the RMOW. What a lot of people don’t know is that several Cabinet members owned property there (in Whistler) at the time and they would be concerned that development at Garibaldi would reduce their property values."
McDonald’s struggles with the government came to a head one day in May 1980 when Premier Bill Bennett was on a campaign trip by B.C. Rail from Vancouver to the Interior. "We knew that they had a stunt planned for this thing whereby some cowboys at Clinton or 100 Mile house were going to abduct his wife and Bill was going to end up saving her life," McDonald says. "We thought, ‘Well, there’s going to be lots of press along, and it’ll be pretty light-hearted.’ So I went out on the railroad tracks and blocked the train. The patrolman arrived and here was the skidder across the tracks. By this time half of Garibaldi was there witnessing this thing. Bill (Bennett) jumped down out of the train and two or three reporters followed him out. He came over and wanted to know what was going on, so I explained to him that we were having a problem in Garibaldi — that development was being stopped. By this time there was a reporter there so Bill said he wanted to help me get this machine off the tracks so they could carry on. ‘I thought, ‘Well there’s no point in arguing anymore,’ so we took the machine off the tracks and Bill climbed back in the train and away they went."
Jim Lever, another resident of Garibaldi whose parents were running the Garibaldi Lodge at the time, also recalls the incident on the railroad tracks.
"Doug put his loader right across the tracks and said, ‘I’m not moving it until Bill Bennett comes out and talks to me’." Lever recalls. "These things had been going on for a couple of years and he said, ‘you did your survey on the Barrier, so what’s up?’ Bennett said ‘I’ll get back to you next week, and as soon as I get back to Victoria I’ll look into it.’ I guess it was the next week or 10 days later they said, ‘Everybody get out of here.’ I guess he didn’t really like Doug stopping him in his tracks."
Nearly 20 years later, it may be impossible to determine what exactly caused the closing down of Garibaldi. Whether it was a straightforward matter of public safety, a government bungle or some backroom deal that will go to the grave with its makers, we may never know. Some of the people involved in the decision making have died or retired and moved away. Professor Bill Mathews, described by some as the leading geologist on the Garibaldi region, is retired and incapacitated.
What we do know is that the Barrier is still standing at the head of the Rubble Creek valley while thousands of people travel along the highway below it every day. The hiking trail to Garibaldi Lake, which begins below the Barrier, is still open, yet whitewater rafting has recently been forbidden on the Cheakamus River because it is deemed a slow form of transportation. Perhaps Charles Brawner’s idea of stabilizing the Barrier will come back into vogue one day, settling the safety matter once and for all.
"It’s too bad in a way because if everybody had stuck together it probably wouldn’t have happened," Jim Lever recalls of the old community. "A lot of people just moved away altogether. The whole process kind of split everybody up, I think. The people who wanted to sell out; the people who didn’t. It turns everyone against each other. There were a few people that wanted to move, so it was pretty easy once they capitulated. It kind of began the domino effect."
Kind of like a dam, I can’t help thinking. Once it springs its first leak there’s no chance of holding it back.