Sinking houses and sagging land: more than two years after the dike rupture that forced the evacuation of 6,000 people in Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-Lac in 2019, it is now slippery clay that poses a problem for residents.
“We do not know what will happen, we are in limbo,” said Nathalie Quézel, whose house on 19th Avenue in Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-Lac in the Lower Laurentians is uninhabitable. She has been living in a trailer without electricity or running water with her partner and her dogs for several months.
In August, the house – which was supposed to be lifted to install a reinforced concrete slab – collapsed during the operation. The previous fall, the ground had already sunk too far to excavate and rebuild the foundations. The family spent the winter of 2020 on an icy floor in the raised house. She agreed to show La Presse the extent of the property’s damage.
The family was forced to rebuild the foundations after the floods in 2019. The ground was slippery, but not enough for the Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-Lac urban planning department to prevent the construction. The only option left now is a soil bearing test that will likely lead to piling the house foundation.
“Pouring the foundation should have cost $20,000. Here, we are talking about $130,000 to $170,000,“ Sam Essamadi, of MPI Estimation, the contractor responsible for the project, told La Presse. “That’s more than the value of the house,” he added.
“Without the flooding, we would never have done renovations that are this expensive,” Quézel said.
Her file is being studied at the Ministry of Public Security (MSP), but Quézel, an early child-care educator, has received no further information. The ministry declined to comment on the case. The City of Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-Lac is also aware of the situation. “The only compensation we got was to rebuild the foundation. And since the house is no longer seated on the foundation, I will have to repay it,“ Quézel said. Not to mention the $25,000 paid as a deposit for the work. In the meantime, she and her partner have no idea where they will spend the winter. “I am overwhelmed. After three years, it’s been enough,” she said, wiping away tears.
“People who are trying to recover from this flood with what the MSP has given them, and whose bearing capacity (of the land) is not good enough, have a rather delicate problem,” said Marc-André Harnois, managing director of the Consumers Association for Quality in Construction.
The amount offered by the ministry (under the General Financial Assistance Program for Actual or Imminent Disasters) varies according to the damage assessment made, among others, by the municipality.
In Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-Lac, on average, $191,672 was offered for homes that had to be rebuilt, in addition to grants for demolition, said Marie-Josée Montminy, the ministry’s public relations officer. For people who made repairs, the “average financial assistance for the residence was $26,173,” she said.
“There really is a big disparity between those who were recognized as total loss and those who were not recognized as total loss,” Harnois said. Sometimes just a few centimetres of water are a game-changer. There is a “semblance of injustice,” he added. Especially since the residents were unaware they were in an area that could flood.
Quézel is not the only one facing slippery soil. A new Facebook group called “Troubles de fondations SMSLL (Foundation Troubles Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-Lac)” was created on Sept. 5, and already has 42 members. Among them, Julie Ménard, who lives on Des Perdrix Street. She recently had piling installed in her basement, which had to be renovated after the floods. She had staked the outside of her house in 2018.
“It’s not normal that every spring you are afraid your whole house will crumble,” Ménard said.
She reopened her file at the Ministry for Public Security and called on the City’s insurance because “it’s not true (that she’ll) pay $100,000 on her own,” she said.
Nearby, Annie Patenaude’s land is also sagging, as is the curb. The family recently added piling to prop up the front of their house. Their neighbour, Luc Angrignon, was surprised: “This is the first time in the 50 years that I’ve lived here that I have heard of piling,“ he said.
On 37th Avenue, Josée Arès had the same difficulties. Work to repair the foundation of his small property, which cracked in the floods, had to be cancelled. The house lift company is now requesting a soil bearing capacity test, which can cost up to $12,000. Not to mention the piling would cost more than the value of the house.
“I feel like I’m about to spend $150,000 to not even feel safe after all,” she said.
“It’s alienating and it’s disheartening,” she added, referring to the administrative battle with the ministry and the municipality to get compensation.
On the day of La Presse’s visit, the ministry confirmed that her geotechnical soil test would be reimbursed.
Unlike other municipalities in Quebec, Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-Lac does not have a compensation plan for slippery soil. Outgoing mayor Sonia Paulus, who is running for re-election on Nov. 7, told La Presse that a rule change was not expected.
“We would have to know why (there are lift difficulties) and if it has something to do with the dike breaking. But depending on the number of cases, it is our responsibility (to help the citizens),” she said.
“The city will certainly have to look into the issue,” said François Robillard, city councillor and mayoral candidate. According to him, the infrastructure project to establish a storm water collection system – which the municipality recently approved – could be an opportunity to document the problem.
“We must not wait for another disaster like the floods before acting,” Sébastien Dionne, independent city council candidate, posted on Facebook on Oct. 2. “We must not keep the status quo and pretend the problem does not exist and let citizens pay the price as if it was their fault.“ He said his driveway sagged five centimetres in places since the flooding.
1629: Number of claims sent to Quebec’s Ministry of Public Security following the 2019 floods in Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-Lac.
1460: Number of cases closed as of Oct. 4.
31: Number of open cases. The ministry does not keep statistics on the number of reopened cases.
Source: Quebec Ministry of Public Security