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Site C protests: BC Hydro agrees to meet Old Fort residents over construction impacts

Residents say they're prepared to continue protesting if action isn't taken on their concerns

BC Hydro says it is working to arrange a meeting this month with frustrated Old Fort residents demanding better mitigation measures and compensation from the impacts of Site C dam construction.

On Wednesday, more than a dozen residents parked their vehicles and even a holiday trailer outside Gate B on Old Fort Road, blocking one of two entrances into the $16-billion construction site on the Peace River. The residents say they've been suffering for years from the dust, noise, and traffic from the construction site, just two kilometres upstream of their homes, but that BC Hydro hasn’t addressed their concerns.

Site C community relations manager Bob Gammer said Thursday morning that the company recognizes their frustration.

“A BC Hydro construction manager and myself went and spoke to the residents at the gate in-person for about an hour to hear their concerns,” Gammer said. “We have agreed to meet with the residents again later this month.”

Residents say the latest trouble started last month when construction began on fish habitat enhancements on a river island adjacent to the community. With strong winds over the past several weeks, and with gusts of 60km/h during the protest Wednesday, the concerns about construction dust were apparent.

Residents who were out protesting said their communications with BC Hydro have so far been limited to phone and Zoom calls or letters and emails. They were demanding an in-person meeting with company officials, and calling for more air quality monitoring, better dust control measures, and shorter construction hours for the work taking place on the island across from their properties, currently running seven days a week.

Gammer said BC Hydro is working to mitigate the impacts of dust from construction work “as much as possible.”

“This includes applying water on non-paved roads and other areas of the project. We will also be increasing the number of watering trucks and will begin using a dust suppression treatment product on gravel roads to help supress dust as soon as possible,” Gammer said. “We have also offered some residents the opportunity to have a mobile dust monitoring device deployed on their property to better understand the airborne dust concentration at their residence.”

Gate B on Old Fort Road is one of two gates into the project construction site. At Gate A, the primary entrance to the site at the end of 269 Road, a long line-up of crew and other vehicles stretched down the road on Wednesday night due to delays caused by the protest.

The ongoing dust comes in the wake of the 2018 and 2020 Old Fort landslides, with many residents still feeling the aftermath. Long-time resident Elaine Smith says it’s been difficult to deal with the dust, cleaning daily to remove what settles in both her home and outside. 

“We’ve just been battling it. And we’ve been battling it for so long and not getting any results,” she said. “We’ve all sent hundreds of emails, saying we need our concerns addressed and we’re just being ignored – we don’t understand.”

Fellow resident Lia Rossell says her greatest concern is her children breathing in the dust that’s in the air, and has asked BC Hydro to provide air purifiers to alleviate the issue. She says the last couple months have been the worst, coinciding with the start of the fish habitat construction.  

“We’re within two kilometres of the Site C construction site and it’s a major construction site. At the beginning of it all, BC Hydro had said we would not be impacted in any way,” said Rossell. "As far as the dust goes, we live in the valley and the prevailing winds blow our way and I would say it’s increased over the last couple years."

Smith says residents made a deal with BC Hydro Wednesday night to have an in-person meeting in two weeks, with the time and place expected to be confirmed today. Residents are ready to continue their protests if need be, she said.

“We absolutely want action at the meeting, if there are no definite answers to our questions then we will back to blockade,” Smith said. “We aren’t going to just go away. We have been ignored, bullied, pushed to our limits at this point and we want answers.”

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