The Chief of the Blueberry River First Nation has called on Premier John Horgan to suspend construction at Site C during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a March 27 letter, Chief Marvin Yahey Sr says the dam's continued construction is “inconsistent” with the province’s approach to the crisis to date, and puts Fort St. John and the region at substanstial risk of an outbreak.
On Tuesday night, Horgan extended the provincial state of emergency to April 14, and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says the pandemic will impact daily life until summer, followed by a potential second wave of the virus in the fall.
“Site C is not like residential and commercial construction projects occurring elsewhere; it is a mega project in a small community, with a disproportionate risk to and draw upon our community’s population and resources at a highly vulnerable time,” Yahey wrote.
Nearly 100 more workers flew into Fort St. John Tuesday, bringing the camp workforce up to a total of 911. BC Hydro has scaled back much of its construction on the Peace River in response to the pandemic, and has focused its attention on completing its river diversion systems to meet a fall deadline.
Still some Fort St. John city councillors and northern B.C.'s former chief medical health officer have also said construction should be suspended, and that industrial camps should be shut down during the pandemic to save the region's health care system from being overwhelmed.
Yahey said the Blueberry community faces a substantial risk from transmission in the region as residents suffer a range of underlying health problems and substandard living conditions, with elders the most vulnerable.
Travel to Fort St. John has been restricted, the reserve has been closed to non-residents, and members have been withdrawn from the Site C worksite, Yahey said.
“In a community as small as ours, loss of even one elder is challenging for our people; loss of multiple elders to an outbreak would be devastating to community leadership and cohesion, and to BRFN cultural transmission,” Yahey wrote.
There were 15 cases reported in the Northern Health region as of March 31, and 1,013 cases and 24 deaths province-wide. No cases have been reported at Site C.
The Fort St. John hospital has been tasked with the care of the most critically-ill patients in the northeast who may suffer from the respiratory disease caused by the virus.
Read the letter in full below:
Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at firstname.lastname@example.org.