Court certifies flooding lawsuit against Abbotsford as class action

A judge has certified a class-action lawsuit alleging destruction in the November 2021 atmospheric river flooding in the Fraser Valley was magnified by improper operations of a pump station.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice S. Dev Dley says the lawsuit’s allegations against the City of Abbotsford potentially affected a significant number of people in the nearby Sumas Prairie area.

Court documents say the certification means others affected by the flooding can join the lawsuit against Abbotsford for allegedly failing “to close the flood boxes at the (Barrowtown) pump station.”

None of the allegations have been proven in court, and the City of Abbotsford says in an email to The Canadian Press that it does not comment on active legal matters.

The lawsuit was initiated last year by two Sumas Prairie residents, one of whom has since died.

The record rainfall in November 2021 in Southwestern B.C. flooded farms, killing thousands of animals, and closed highways while washing out Interior highways, and the province said in February it will pay almost $80 million to help upgrade the Barrowtown Pump Station that was nearly overwhelmed.

The lawsuit says operators at the pump station did not close the flood boxes during the 2021 atmospheric river event, leading to water from the Fraser River flooding back into Sumas Prairie, which was a 40-square-kilometre lake before being drained in the 1920s.

The plaintiffs, represented by Slater Vecchio LLP, say residents “sustained physical damage and harm as a result of the flooding” and they are suing Abbotsford for “negligence and nuisance” for its operational decisions at the pump station.

In the documents, the City of Abbotsford says that, while it acknowledges “many residents of the city suffered substantial upheaval and property damage,” the flooding in Sumas Prairie was caused by the nearby Nooksack River and not the Fraser.

Abbotsford says in court documents that people with alleged claims against the city should make those claims individually, not as a class-action lawsuit.

The document says there are more than 1,400 properties in the Sumas Prairie area.

Then-B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham said in 2022 that the Sumas Prairie dike breach saw 1,100 farms placed under evacuation order or alert.

Popham said floodwaters swamped about 150 square kilometres of farmland that resulted in the deaths of 630,000 chickens, 420 cattle and 12,000 hogs.