After a week of frustration and looking for answers, residents of the Rivière Rouge valley living downstream of the Bell Falls dam returned home on Thursday evening.
The evacuation order that Hydro-Québec had imposed a week before was lifted at 5 p.m. Thursday afternoon.
On April 25, approximately residents from about 50 homes were evacuated from the river valley amid concerns the dam could not withstand the increased flow of water caused byspring flooding.
Many of the residents had very little time to gather belongings before having to leave. Some were airlifted out by a Sûreté du Québec (SQ) helicopter while others were able to drive out. The evacuees had to find temporary accommodations and supplies during the week they were away from their homes.
At 8 p.m. Thursday evening, authorities announced that residents could return to their homes, but there are still restrictions on how the area can be accessed.
According to a municipal news release, roads west of the river in the Tervette sector, (Parc, Charles, Lac Campbell), were open to traffic that evening.
Chemin de la Rivière Rouge from Chemin Harrington to the Avoca Bridge was also accessible to traffic.
However, the section of Chemin de la Riviere Rouge from the Avoca Bridge to Chemin Kilmar was closed to traffic during the night.
That section of road needs significant repairs. The municipality has already mobilized the public works department and contractors and work was to begin at 7 a.m. Friday morning. Residents of that section of road,however, can park and access their homes on foot. The road will be re-opened once work has been completed to make it safe.
The Avoca Bridge itself is also closed to all traffic.
At a special council meeting held Thursday evening, Grenville-sur-la Rouge Mayor Tom Arnold explained that the SQ and firefighters would be assisting as people returned home and that the police presence in the valley would decrease in the coming days, but firefighters and municipal staff would continue to check on residents if necessary.
“No pressure, we just made many phone calls and kept reminding them we were waiting for a decision,” said Arnold, asserting that no other pressure was placed on Hydro-Québec to lift the evacuation order.
Hydro-Québec’s safety protocol for monitoring the dam remains in place.
Thursday’s announcement came after further monitoring of the structural integrity of the dam was done that day.
Marie Lalumière and her partner Markus Kautzky were happy to be returning home.
On the afternoon of April 25, Lalumière was unable to return home from her job as a teacher in Grenville.
Kautzky was not evacuated by SQ helicopter until 10 p.m. that evening.
Firefighters retrieved their dog the next day and the couple stayed for the entire week with friends in Montreal.
“I want to know what’s the future, it should be removed completely,” said Lalumière.
The couple just moved to their home in the Rouge valley in June 2018.
“I’m really concerned for next year,” she said.
Arnold did not want to speculate on the future of the Bell Falls dam at Thursday’s council meeting. However, he did say that the natural resources minister had called him that morning and was made aware of concerns about the dam’s future.