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Moccasin Flats constant theme during town hall

Smoke from fires, strange behaviour among concerns raised by neighbouring residents

A town hall on community safety drew more than 200 people to the Civic Centre on Tuesday, many armed with questions centred on the Moccasin Flats encampment.

Heavy smoke from the encampment was a consistent topic when the attendees were given a chance to speak.

A homeowner in the nearby Millar-Connaught neighbourhood said it can get so bad that an air quality monitor set up on Patricia Boulevard and above the encampment has often registered 500 while other monitors in the city are sitting at just three or four

Whenever there has been a large structure fire, measurements have struck twice the levels seen during the wildfires, and one fire showered sparks on nearby houses, he added.

A reading above 301 is considered hazardous.

"The air that's coming out of Moccasin Flats right now is going to kill," another resident told a panel made up of city council members, city manager Walter Babicz, Prince George RCMP Supt. Shaun Wright and Prince George Fire Rescue Chief Cliff Warner.

Another resident, Dr. Marie Hay, an advocate for good local air quality, warned that breathing in the toxic chemicals in the smoke could produce cancers in children as they grow older.

Warner said whenever PGFR assesses whether a structure poses enough of a hazard to be removed, it focuses on the risk of a fire spreading. However, the department is working to categorize the danger the smoke that fires could produce as a way to get a better handle on the problem. 

"That's going to take some effort from us and we're working on that," Warner said to applause.

Residents also raised concerns about crime and threatening behaviour involving residents of the encampment, and asked what the city plans to do to close it down. Moccasin Flats is protected by a court ruling that blocks any move to dismantle it until suitable emergency housing can be found for its residents.

The city is taking steps to close down the encampment, the audience heard.

Babicz said they hinge on completion of the 43-unit transitional housing project at 397 Third Ave. To be made up of Atco-style trailers, he said it should be ready for occupancy by this fall and the occupants of the encampment will be given offers of housing there and in other BC Housing projects, such as the North Star Inn currently being renovated.

For any of the occupants who refuse to move out, Babicz said the city will seek an order for removal from the court.

He said a encampment site must also be established elsewhere in Prince George but would be strictly limited to overnight camping.

One downtown business owner expressed frustration with the slow going on the issue.

"I say to the members of this panel, everybody up there is paid to lead," Dan McLaren said. "It's your job to give us the leadership. It's great to have these meetings, we could have one every week but until we put a five-point plan together and take it with a costed budget to Victoria, this will never get any better."

Millar-Connaught residents say something has to be done to address the fires as well as threatening and strange behaviour that has been seen since the encampment was established.

"We do have compassion, we realize that there are people in this situation. They don't want to be there. However, we can't ignore the fact that there is an immense amount of crime," panelists were told. "We have gas tanks going missing and things getting stolen, but those are things you see semi-regularly, I would say. 

"What we are not talking about is people getting chased by naked people and having to be rescued by their neighbours and people getting bear-sprayed in their driveways. These are things that are happening, I wouldn't say they are frequent, but they do happen."

The meeting was part of a process council's standing committee on community safety is pursuing with a goal of having a report ready by the June 12 regular council meeting. The next step will be a council workshop to review the feedback and a public report to council on findings and actionable items.

In the meantime, the public still has a chance to provide comments and suggestions via email at getinvolved@princegeorge.ca.