Old Fort residents to be granted temporary re-entry to their homes

Old Fort residents will be granted temporary entry back into their homes as early as Monday morning. 

Residents were given the news Sunday afternoon, a week after a landslide prompted an evacuation order of the community.

The plan is to boat in residents in groups of 30, and give them a few hours to gather their essential belongings and winterize their homes.

The Peace River Regional District has received the OK to let residents back in from its geotechnical experts, however, all evacuation orders and alerts remain in place.

“They feel it’s safe to enact these temporary permits at this time,” said Shawn Dahlen, acting chief administrative officer for the regional district.

“There’s still a lot of information to be gathered about this slide and we continue to do so.”

The landslide began Sept. 30 and forced an evacuation order on Oct. 7. There are 52 homes affected, and the re-entry plan includes 40 properties in the southeast part of the community. 

The re-entry is being led by Aaron Pritchard of R&R Rentals, who has been named project manager for the efforts.

The plan is to get residents and plumbers in to 10 properties per day, and D. Bauer Mechanical will be helping residents winterize their homes, Pritchard said.

Residents remain in a holding pattern as there's still no timeline on when they'll be able to fully return home. They continue to be supported through emergency support services, the Red Cross, and the Provincial Health Services Authority. 

Big slide

The main landslide has triggered another historical landslide next to it. Combined, the two slides have grown to eight million cubic metres covering 39 hectares, or roughly 72 football fields.

To put that into perspective, BC Hydro contractors have so far cleared that much material from the north bank of the Peace River at the Site C dam site just upstream of Old Fort.

Engineering geologist Rhonda Mellafont said the speed of main landslide has slowed down, but that doesn't mean things won't speed up. Air and laser light surveys continue to be taken of the slide, and the slowed movement will allow geologists to get on the ground to do further investigation.

"It's a promising sign in the meantime," Mellafont said.

It's hoped the ground investigations will allow re-entry efforts to be expanded so all residents can get into their homes this week, Dahlen said.

An expert panel is being convened this week to make further determinations about the landslide and response efforts, and to determine when exactly residents will be able to safely return and stay home. 

Road access

Transportation officials are looking at two options to establish temporary road access back into Old Fort.

One is to punch a path over top of the landslide where it cut into Old Fort Road, the only road in and out of the community that's been cut off. That would take between three to five days to be established. 

A second option would be to establish road access off the Site C dam site entrance and hop over two islands in the Peace River and into the community. That would take between seven to 10 days to establish.

“We can get in and up and over the slide a lot quicker,” said Rodney Hafner, operations manager for Yellowhead Road & Bridge North Peace.

“For speed, it’s better of a long term thing if the slide becomes stable.”

The slide has pushed into a back channel of the Peace River and encroached on one of the islands in question, which could eliminate it as a road option.

Slide movement continues to be studied from the air, and more ground work needs to be done before a route is chosen, said Nikki Hogg, Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure operation manager for the North Peace.

“That’s the key, to get people on the ground to assess those options,” Hogg said.

Restoring power

Power to the community was completely severed on Oct. 6, before the community was ordered to evacuate.

Ed Shuster, BC Hydro’s district manager in Fort St. John, said the utility’s engineers and designers are working on a plan to restore power.

A full plan will be developed once crews are allowed to access the area and start surveying.

"It’ll be a big job," Shuster said.

Costs to date

The bill for the landslide has so far cost more than $500,000 in emergency response and supports.

As of Oct. 12, there were 165 residents registered for emergency support services, with $132,300 spent so far.

Emergency response staff have recorded 1,790 hours at the emergency operations centre, with $410,346 spent so far.

Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at editor@ahnfsj.ca.

Old Fort re-entry zones map. Peace River Regional District
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