Hydro-Québec will significantly improve the capacity of a dam that nearly burst during this spring's flooding, nearby residents heard during the first public meeting since their community was evacuated.
Roughly 75 people living in or near Grenville-sur-la-Rouge, Que., were placed under an evacuation order in April 2019 after water levels on the Rouge River reached heights that had never been reached in recorded history.
They were allowed to return one week later when Hydro-Québec declared the Bell Falls dam was no longer in danger of failing.
Seven months after the evacuation order, residents of the western Quebec town just across the river from Hawkesbury, Ont., had their first meeting Tuesday night with officials from the public utility.
While some in attendance said they wished they'd been told sooner about Hydro-Québec's intentions for the dam, most were relieved to hear a plan had been forged.
"Hopefully this'll be the last time we have to go through this kind of emergency situation with the dam," said Sharon Graves, who has lived in the area 25 years.
'Not going to be easy'
The plan involves upping the volume of water that can safely flow through the dam, which was built in 1915 and has not generated electricity for about a decade, from 990 cubic metres per second to 1,200 cubic metres per second.
To do that, Hydro-Québec will modify the turbines inside the dam's powerhouse, project co-ordinator José Kanou said.
Crews will also excavate the right bank of the dam site and demolish a concrete wall, Kanou said.
"It's not going to be easy, of course. We're working in winter conditions. There's going to be a lot of elements against us that we don't have control over — mainly Mother Nature," he said.
"That being said, we're still going to do our best to get the job done on time."
The aim is to have the work completed by spring so the dam is ready for another potential flood.
Gilbert Landry, who lives along the Rouge River and was forced out in the spring, welcomed the news.
"We've been waiting for these answers for a long time. It took [the utility] seven months, unfortunately ... but the answers they gave us tonight are very positive," Landry said.
"It's a big plus for [reducing] our sleepless nights that we've had the past few months."