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Old Fort residents set up blockade outside Site C gate

Last couple of months have been unbearable, say residents

[Update: BC Hydro says there was an hourly exceedance in the air quality standard at Old Fort on June 29. Spokesperson Bob Gammer says air quality is also measured on a 24-hour rolling average, and that there has not been an exceedance for the 24-hour rolling average in the past 90 days.]

There's a blockade at the Site C gates this hour as Old Fort residents protest BC Hydro over construction impacts of the dam. 

Just over a dozen residents have parked their vehicles and even a holiday trailer outside Gate B on Old Fort Road. The residents say they have 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 has not addressed their concerns. 

Residents say the latest trouble started last month when construction began on fish habitat enhancements on an island adjacent to the community along the Peace River. With winds gusting to 60km/h on Wednesday afternoon, concerns about the construction dust being kicked up were apparent.

“Right now the number one concern is the dust and the air quality. The last couple months have been pretty unbearable,” said one resident. “Lots of residents are having a hard time breathing. The dust in our houses is ridiculous, we can’t keep our windows open.”

The residents say they want an in-person meeting with BC Hydro, along with more air quality monitoring, better dust control measures, and better communication from the company, which they say has been limited to phone and Zoom calls or letters. They also want to see shorter construction hours for the work taking place on the island across from their properties.

“We just want to get their attention, we just want to be acknowledged. We’re neighbours, we’re a residential community within Site C and it’s time that they acknowledge that, and compensate us for the several impacts they’ve had on us for the last seven years now.”

One police officer was on scene speaking with residents but left shortly after media arrived. Just before 6 p.m. around 15 vehicles had parked outside the gates on Old Fort Road, one of two gates to 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 due to delays getting out of the construction site. 

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 said 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.  

“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. 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,” said Rossell.   

She added that the last couple months have been the worst, coinciding with the start of the fish habitat construction.  

“My son had bad allergies since they started, and he’s never had allergies before. We can’t keep up with the dust, and some of my other neighbours are complaining about breathing issues as well,” Rossell said.  

Site C community relations manager Bob Gammer said BC Hydro has been using watering trucks to suppress the dust, but wasn’t able to provide the numbers of trucks on site.   

“Dust mitigation measures that are on the way do include the water trucks, and so we drive them on all of our non-paved roads, and even lay-down areas, just to suppress the dust,” Gammer said. “We do that frequently, throughout the day and in this situation, because we’re aware, just hearing from the Old Fort residents, it’s quite clear that dust is coming across the river even with the amount of watering.”   

Starting Monday, liquid calcium chloride will also be used on the roads to further suppress the dust in combination with increased watering, said Gammer. 

An air monitoring station is in place at Old Fort, he added, which monitors for all types of dust and particulate matter in the air.  

“We have noted some exceedance of the air quality standard. And so, we’ve noted that in camp in the last couple of days it’s been particularly windy on the construction site, and we also had an exceedance on June 29 in Old Fort itself,” Gammer said.  

Any exceedances are reported to the Ministry of Environment and Northern Health, added Gammer.  

“They are the agencies that would respond when there are exceedances,” he said.  

Another resident, Stephanie Fielberg, feels BC Hydro isn’t doing enough to mitigate it, and said an email from the Crown corporation called the situation ‘extenuating circumstances.   

“It’s continued, and this weekend was even worse. My main concern is that we have young children who’ve had allergy attacks in the past,” she said. “There’s a lot of dust in the air, you can see it coming.” 

Ali Den Ouden, who also lives in Old Fort, had much the same to say as her neighbours about the dust.  

“It’s a pretty huge concern that all of us have. Most of us have similarly aged kids, Steph’s got a baby, and so our kids are playing outside in the dust and getting into their tiny, growing lungs. Every single surface inside and outside of our home, and our vehicles are dirty – you can dust twice a day and it’s still just piling up,” she said.

- with files from Tom Summer

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