Old Fort residents mulling legal options over Site C

Peace River

Residents in Old Fort say they are considering their legal options following a meeting with BC Hydro officials over the Site C dam Tuesday night.

Group spokesman Jared Giesbrecht said about 50 residents met with Hydro at the Pomeroy Hotel in the hopes of having their concerns over the dam and its construction addressed. But residents left the two-hour meeting feeling more frustrated than satisfied they had been heard.

“Coming out of that meeting, we got the feeling Hydro is not going to do anything in terms of mitigation or compensation, and have no regard for residents unless they are forced to do so,” said Giesbrecht, whose family lives in the Old Fort, located about two and a half kilometres downstream of the dam’s location on the Peace River.

Residents have been fighting to get a meeting with Hydro officials for six months, Giesbrecht said, so they could voice their concerns over the safety of the dam and potential evacuation plans, along with an increase in dust, noise, and traffic expected in the small community as construction ramps up.

Residents left the meeting with no commitment from Hydro that sirens would be in place to warn the community in the event of a dam breach or failure, said Giesbrecht. There is only one road in to and out of the valley, he noted, and residents fear the potential of being caught flat-footed staring down a gushing wall of water.

“Dams do breach and there are problems. Some basic preparations for safety would go a long way,” he said, pointing to recent disasters in British Columbia such as the Mount Polley tailings pond breach.

Old Fort Road will be a primary road for heavy construction traffic going to the dam, and will also provide access to the work camp planned along the north bank of the river

“We’re talking about very specific concerns. They don’t want to acknowledge the amount of harm it will cause for us down the river,” Giesbrecht said.

Residents are currently discussing their next moves with a Vancouver-based lawyer, Giesbrecht said.

“I’m not sure what else to do,” he said, adding he feels the small community doesn’t have a the same leverage negotiating with Hydro as larger municipal and First Nation governments do.

BC Hydro spokesman Dave Conway called last night’s meeting respectful in tone, and that Hydro officials met one on one with residents, and addressed questions in a large group setting.

Conway said Hydro is still developing an emergency planning guide that would cover evacuation plans and what would happen in the event of a dam failure. The guide needs approval from both the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and the BC Environmental Assessment Office, said Conway.

“We have a good record for dam safety and compliance and we intend on maintaining that,” Conway said, adding Hydro is open to the idea of implementing a siren warning system.

“We are looking at things we might be able to do.”

Conway said Hydro has a number of mitigation measures in place for the area, including paving of the 240 and 269 roads, adding shoulders and installing street lights at intersections along Old Fort Road, and widening the “hair pin” corner of the road as it descends into the valley.

Hydro will also restrict contractors from operating heavy construction vehicles during school bus hours, he said, though he also admitted construction on the dam will occur 20 hours per day.

While construction traffic will use the Old Fort Road, it will not move through the Old Fort community itself, Conway noted, as a new road to the dam site and work camps will be built at the Myca gravel pit.

Conway added there will be security checkpoints at this location, and that Hydro hopes the on-site recreation and entertainment at the worker camps will reduce the volume of traffic going into the community.

“We’re trying to do what we can to reduce the number of people wandering down in the community to investigate,” he said.

But because Old Fort residents aren’t directly affected by the dam — that is their properties aren’t expected to be needed for the flood reservoir, right of ways, etc. — they will not receive compensation as other landowners further upstream in the valley and flood zone will, Conway said.

“Noise, sound, light, dust, traffic on the road. Those aren’t things we’d compensate for,” he said.