Old Fort residents still denied answers and resolution after two years… and two separate slides.

A sad thing about Covid – now that we know more about it – is that its provided plenty of cover for other important issues that have gone unaddressed and largely ignored. The daily media pressers and updates continue to dominate BC news, most recently with the back to school plan both parents and teachers are rightfully pushing back on.
But beyond Covid, there are a group of people who have been living in limbo for almost 2 years, with few answers and even less transparency : the residents of the small community of Old Fort, located downstream of Site C construction.
That’s why, when I recently heard about the second big slide a couple months ago, I was shocked to read the report into the first slide was still being withheld!

 “As an active new landslide severs the only road to the Peace Valley community of Old Fort, residents want to know why the B.C. government is refusing to release information about an earlier landslide in the same location, near the Site C dam construction site. 

“What kind of information do you have that is so bad that you can’t share it?” asked Kali Chmelyk, one of 150 Old Fort residents who has been under an evacuation alert since June 19, shortly after residents first noticed cracks and buckling in the road following a heavy rainfall.

Since then, an advancing wall of mud has eliminated more than 150 metres of the Old Fort access road, which was rebuilt after an October 2018 landslide wiped out part of the road, destroyed a home and prompted a local state of emergency.

~snip~

Last year, The Narwhal learned through a Freedom of Information request that the 2018 landslide, in an area underlaid by numerous natural gas leases and near one entrance to the Site C dam worksite, was classified as a “dangerous occurrence” under B.C.’s health, safety and reclamation code.

That triggered a geotechnical assessment to identify “the root cause and contributing factors” of the slide, according to a briefing note for Peter Robb, mining and energy assistant deputy minister.

In November 2019, the ministry told The Narwhal the assessment was not yet complete.

The Peace River Regional District subsequently filed a Freedom of Information request seeking all reports related to the landslide, which displaced eight million cubic metres of earth, cutting off Old Fort for one month.

But the provincial government refused to release the reports, telling the district, as reported by the Alaska Highway News, that disclosure would be harmful to law enforcement.

“What does that even mean?” Brad Sperling, chair of the Peace River Regional District, asked at an April board meeting. “I’m really kind of confused about their response to this.”

The district has requested that B.C.’s Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner review the decision.

Why so much secrecy has plagued these 2 landslides has been a topic of concern since day 1, and something Ben Parfitt covered here, concerning the conflict of interest of the ministry investigating an incident they themselves have been questioned by residents as holding liability in:  https://thenarwhal.ca/b-c-investigation-into-old-fort-landslide-caught-up-in-conflict-of-interest-residents-say/
But over a year later, in November 2019, Sarah Cox once again detailed how residents  continued to be left in the dark. https://thenarwhal.ca/its-not-right-residents-left-with-safety-concerns-following-2018-landslide-near-site-c-dam/

“The ministry did not respond to a question asking what information must still be gathered in order to conclude the investigation into the slide, which displaced eight million cubic metres of earth and blocked the only road to Old Fort for a month.

Old Fort resident Kali Chmelyk said community members are getting contradictory messages about the landslide, noting “everything surrounding the slide is very hush-hush.”

For example, when residents ask about the temporary road into the community and when it will be paved, they’re told the slide is still dangerous and still moving and not to stop their cars on the road because it isn’t safe, Chmelyk said.

“But then when you bring up ‘so it’s dangerous, what does that mean?’ Then you get the response of ‘oh no, everything’s fine, it’s not dangerous, it’s not moving anymore, there’s no danger to safety, blah, blah, blah.’ ”

“These are our homes and we want to know we’re safe where we are. I don’t want to be told in six months ‘it’s possible that this could happen again, so we’re just going to buy you out.’”

Old Fort Landslide location
And here we are now, August of 2020, another slide did happen and no one is any closer to getting any information for the residents of Old Fort. And they are getting tired, and reaching out for help from anyone who can help them get answers so they can find out once and for all what their future is.
That this is taking so long, is extremely worrisome. As discussed in my prior post, the instability of the valley in this area once slopes are dug into and exposed in particular, is worrisome. Despite the gravel pit operations being allegedly found to be not the root cause of the initial slide 2 years ago, there was a failure at that site previously and the permit was issued without the mine site being in compliance ,and without a geotech slope study being done. And while weight to stock onsite is being negated, there is no mention of the vibrations associated with equipment on site, and how that would impact a slope. ( my own thoughts there as to why a conflict still exists, in my opinion, which is why the questions in my prior post linked to above still are relevant )
In addition, the continued construction of the money pit without a price tag known as Site C, definitely impacts  these residents downstream, along with others further down. The photo from The Narwhal article above, shows how close they are. The concerns about instability under the powerhouse and dam at Site C, probably keep these people from sleeping at night even more than these slides already do.
A few residents have reached out to me, and I promised a post detailing unanswered questions and concerns. In fact, over the last two weeks, I was CC’ed on emails to the premier, the ministers involved and every politician in the area. To date, no answers or replies have appeared, except standard form acknowledgements and one reply from a constituency aide for Bruce Ralston asking me for my postal code to confirm I lived in his riding. ( insert eyeroll here)

There is no valid reason to withhold information from these residents. Continuing to do so, only breeds more bad feelings and is at this point, cruel. Its untenable to live with this over your heads. Is the province trying to find a way to avoid culpability and liability? I don’t know ,but  I do know that when government officials go to this extent to keep info from people left in limbo, it doesn’t pass the smell test. I also know the city of Fort St.John has some questions to answer they don’t seem to want to address either.

This is the info passed onto me, that residents still want answers to.

The questions can be read in this PDF, downloadable document : Copy of SUMMARY – QUESTIONS AND CONCERNS captured through pigeonhole (002) (1)
( happy to email that to you as well, just send a line through the contact page )
In addition, another frustrated resident forwarded these questions, which no one should have to wait 2 years for answers for. This pandemic should not be frustrating the flow of information between the ministry and these residents and without any reason why releasing info would harm law enforcement, it appears as nothing but a stall tactic.

A copy of this post has been forwarded to all relevant parties and I will update if I hear from residents or officials that these questions or a plan, has or is being addressed for these residents, once and for all.

And remember,  Just because this isn’t happening to you personally, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay attention – you should. Because as I have said many many times in a variety of different stories I have covered, this time it is Old Fort and 2 slides. Next time it might be a serious issue in your own backyard…. and who will fight for you then? These people need recognition and support.

** read more concerning new reports on instability st site c  which is just upstream, here:

4 Comments on “Old Fort residents still denied answers and resolution after two years… and two separate slides.

  1. This is the problem for the NDP, they continued with a ill thought out Liberal plan, it is now turning sour and they just cannot say they made a mistake.

    The NDP never ever make a mistake and why they learned absolutely nothing from their two see drubbing in 2001,

    Not my fault reign supreme.

    Big mistake as we live now in the information age and when things turn sour and one tells porkies, they are mercilessly fact checked.

    Site C is part of BC “boosterism” where we build big to gain big votes; but this is not the age of WAC Bennett and a very young BC, rather is is a rather decrepit province, robbed of its excellence by corrupt and inept politicians busing making their political friends rich.

    It is how we do things and with an utterly corrupt mainstream media the NDP blunder on and on trying to get elusive positive news.

    What we have is a government in fear, afraid of bad news before an election, afraid of “FastFerry” style debacles; afraid of the truth and afraid of the voter.

    Sadly both major BC political parties have been reduced to nattering neigh-bobs of nonsense, who would promise a 5 cent cigar if they are elected.

    Like Dickens Marley’s ghost, the NDP are dragging a long and wound of cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and FastFerries wrought in steel. Soon Site C and the Broadway subway will be added.

    The gang that just cannot shoot straight. What is wrong with the truth these days?

  2. I believe no matter what is done too shore up the dams foundations, nature’s billions of tons of moving earth in the area will eventually win. The dam will be like a toy standing in the way. But we will be lied too by the higher powers and all wise beings of greatness and wisdom until the train crashes.

  3. I do believe Kennylad is on to something there. all that dirt moving.
    In my opinion the NDP/B.C. Hydro haven’t responded because they don’t know how and they haven’t made up their minds. Much of it may depend upon an election. If they go to the polls sooner than later and win a majority they can say Site C is not going to work and can the whole thing. If they wind up with what they currently have, they’ll continue until there is a “really, really” big slide and both the B.C. Lieberals and NDP will agree to say, we didn’t see this coming.

    they’ve spent $10B so far. I’d have preferred they spent it on something more useful, you know like health care, education, drug treatment, affordable housing, the usual stuff for kids.

    Perhaps they are waiting for a big earth quake so the whole thing will slide and they can walk away from it. The people of Old Fort deserve to know what is going to happen, but then the people over in Sechelt still haven’t had their problems settled either.

    The NDP could work on a “story” which blames the B.C. Lieberals, B.C. Hydro and the engineers, and let them wear it and try to walk away from it with something the public will buy. Some of it may depend upon how the return to school works out.

    • If they trigger an election this fall during a pandemic, I wouldn’t be surprised if the voters trounced them. People are still out of work all over, losing homes or renters are getting notices given all over by landlords selling or letting family move home (happened to my neighbours and several other families in the valley)

      Its as opportunistic as Trudeau prorogueing parliament, especially now, when we have a deficit and an even bigger one coming for next year.

      I gave never paid much attention to polls before and don’t intend to now. He will be back in another minority situation or worse yet we get BC Liberals back.

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