Ruskin dam area residents brace for disruption

Long overdue BC Hydro infrastructure upgrades to the 81-year-old Ruskin Dam are scheduled to begin in mid-2012, but local residents have warned district council it will be “unendurable.”

The six-year project is expected to cost $850 million and will entail crews working 20 hours a day, which resident Stewart Swingle says will have a severe impact on his quality of life.

“There’s no way you can do this quietly,” he said Monday during a presentation by the Ruskin Townsite Residents Association.

Most residents live directly downstream from the dam on the west bank of the Stave River extending to Thompson Creek Farm.

They expect drastic noise and light pollution from construction vehicles, delivery trucks, and crews working six days a week. Noise is especially an issue because the valley provides acoustic amplification.

Swingle acknowledged BC Hydro has been working with the association since Dec. 1, 2010 but said though they appreciate the consultation, it doesn’t change much.

“At the end of the day, no matter how hard you try this is going to be difficult on the residents,” he said.

BC Hydro has offered mitigation plans for concerned residents, including having contractors and deliveries stationed off-site, and an onsite liaison available at all times during project construction.

As well, there will be noise monitoring, use of electric generators (instead of diesel) when possible, and a light pollution plan included in the contract.

“They are trying and they do seem to have our best interests, we’ll see if it will work or not,” Swingle said.

He has reason to be concerned. The residents endured a previous BC Hydro project on the right abutment of the dam on Wilson Street — this abutment is scheduled for more construction in the project — where the roadway is built on a rock ridge consisting mainly of glacial silt and erodible sands.

That project caused a major disturbance to residents, including noise until 2 a.m., light, dust and traffic. Worse still, Swingle says that project was only one year, and not six.

Among the residents’ worries is the impact of parking, which they fear will become congested with workers. Council will explore restricting parking to resident-only, while BC Hydro is looking into building designated parking adjacent to the new switchyard.

Mayor James Atebe said the project has economic benefits to the district, but the social harm has to weighed carefully.

Coun. Danny Plecas expressed concern about tourism, adding “over the next four years we’re going to lose a lot of visitors to this area.”

Council also discussed the need for residents to provide feedback for BC Hydro’s ongoing environmental management plan and the impact to recreational kayakers and anglers.

The consultation between BC Hydro and residents was commended by council, who will now wait for staff to complete traffic impact and parking studies before enacting bylaws, if required.