Residents of the Rivière Rouge valley from below the Bell Falls dam got to go home on Thursday evening, but on Wednesday evening, an emotional and sometimes angry meeting of them and residents affected by flooding on the Ottawa River was in held in Calumet with representatives of the Municipality of Grenville-sur-la-Rouge and the Sûreté du Québec (SQ).
Residents were angry with the short notice they received to evacuate, and on Wednesday evening, some were threatening to defy police road blocks and attempt to return home.
“We should all go back there now!” one woman in the audience shouted, prompting loud cheers.
SQ Lieutenant Matthew Mulcair, who oversaw the situation, tried to calm the anger in the room, which momentarily paralyzed the meeting.
One woman asked if the residents could get an exemption and return home.
“When they call for evacuation under the law, we have to do what it says,” said Grenville-sur-la Rouge Mayor Tom Arnold.
Many people shouted from the audience, saying they wanted pets, chickens, and mobility devices they were unable to take with them when they had to leave.
Others denied that any authorities knocked on their doors to notify them of the emergency.
“If Hydro is afraid of the dam, maybe they should take it down,” said Jamie Lalande, who had to leave her home and baking business located near the Bell Falls dam.
Rumours had abounded during the past week that there was a crack in the dam.
“There is no crack,” Arnold emphasized to the audience.
“Does Hydro-Québec have a ‘plan B’ for the dam?” someone asked.
“I will ask that question,” said the mayor.
There was frustration that Hydro-Québec had not sent a representative to address the evacuees.
However, Hydro Milieu Relations Counsellor Brigette Vincelette did arrive late at the meeting. In a short interview after, she said she was sent to the gathering at the last minute and her reason for being there was to listen for information and get an understanding in order to know what action to take next.
“We’ll be back for other sessions,” said Vincelette.
Sherry MacCulloch, one of the evacuated residents, said Hydro should take “full responsibility” for the dam.
“I would like Hydro to take that dam down, it’s not being used,” said MacCulloch.
There was a plain clothes SQ officer standing at the back of the room accompanying an unidentified woman. It was stated on the independent Grenville-sur-la Rouge Facebook news group on Friday that the woman was Sylvie D’Amours, the Québec government Regional Minister for the Laurentides region, who attended to simply listen to the concerns of residents.