A $750 million project from the Prince Rupert Port Authority (PRPA) has drawn extreme frustration from Port Edward residents. The main complaint is about non-stop noise from the Ridley Island Export Logistics Project (RIELP) construction site, which sits just two kilometres across from the small town.
Port Edward residents gathered at the town’s municipal hall for a meeting with PRPA representatives to discuss the noise resulting from 24/7 excavation currently occurring at the southeast end of Ridley Island and directly across the bay from Port Edward.
Many in the sleepy community of approximately 500 people said they have not gotten much sleep lately due to incessant noise, houses shaking and fluorescent lights beaming across the bay since rock blasting began in early January. Some said they had recorded decibel readings of over 70 decibels at night.
Port Edward Mayor Knut Bjorndal lamented that the town’s own bylaws, including no construction after 10 p.m., are not being respected by the project.
“It’s not fair to the people of Port Edward, it’s disrespectful. In most cities, nobody would put up with that. Try this with [Prince Rupert] city council, it wouldn’t fly. You guys would be roasted. It’s lucky most of these people here and myself are very calm, but we cannot have this going on day and night,” said Bjorndal, who is serving his second term in office.
“I can’t see us putting up with this, you’re going to have to come up with a new plan.”
Ken Veldman, vice president of public affairs and sustainability for the PRPA, was joined by project supervisor Travis Bernhardt to discuss compromises on the noise. While the two attempted to assuage Port Edward concerns, their assurances seemed to fall on aching ears.
One homeowner said he and his family were prepared to move away from Port Edward due to what he described as a sharp decrease in quality of life because of the 24/7 construction, though he is worried he will not be able to sell his home due to a drop in property value from the noise. The resident also said he found foundation cracks in his home due to his house shaking from the nearby construction.
“I have noticed some new, small fractures to our foundation. That’s still not that big of an issue, it’s really only the nighttime noise which is preventing us from having any acceptable quality of life,” he said.
Councillor James Brown said sound and vibrations from the heavy equipment carries over the bay with winds. He said Port Edward has dealt with heavy industry coming and going in the area for a long time, but this project has been particularly damaging to the community.
“We raised the issue more than a month ago. I’ve written letters and I emailed to address these issues such as the lights. The ongoing impacts this community receives needs to be respected. We need to be heard and taken serious,” Brown said.
“It’s really troublesome… people call me ready to pack, ready to move because of the noise. I mean, it’s concerning. And I really want to work with you to mitigate these problems.”
After the project was given the green light in October 2023, construction began on the federally-owned land the same month. The 250-person construction crew has been levelling the area for train tracks and the container unloading facility, with excavation expected to continue for about one year.
As the construction moves west and further from Port Edward, Berndhardt and Veldman said the noise will be much less impactful, though one resident said time seemed to be the PRPA’s only mitigation plan.
While Bjorndal said he understood the need to finish the project, he expressed his dismay at what he believes is an untenable situation. He said Port Edward residents have been the ones who have faced the burden of delays to the project and the PRPA’s subsequent rush to meet construction deadlines.
“It’s not fair… your rush should not be our pain,” he said. “You’ve got to give us a break.”
In the project’s final description, potential adverse effects to the social environment during construction included “reduced visual quality” and “disturbance to archeological sites,” though nothing detailed the potential impacts of noise.
Berndhardt assured residents in attendance that rock hammering was not occurring past 6 p.m., and was uncertain why the early hours of Jan. 29 and Jan. 30 were so loud. Numerous residents pointed to the scraping of heavy equipment on the rock face at night, which they thought made even more noise than the rock hammers.
“That’s all we hear is that scraping, all night long. Dealing with that for a year? I’m sorry, I can’t do it,” said one resident.
With regard to the vibrations, Berndhardt said the project’s seismic activity is “well below a threshold that would actually see damage to any structure.”
On multiple occasions, Veldman reminded attendees of PRPA-funded projects in the community from the port’s Community Investment Fund, though this seemed to do little to ease frustration. He also pointed to public comment opportunities in 2020.
High beam lights from the project were another concern for some residents, who said they were “blinding” at times.
“I have to wear my sunglasses at night,” lamented one resident.
Noise barriers, which are frequently used for highway construction projects, were brought up as a possible solution, though Veldman and Bernhardt said this had not been explored as an option as of yet. Brown brought up the possibility of a noise wall and also suggested reforestation. Residents said deforestation for the project made the community more vulnerable to the noise.
Brown, who thinks the community was not properly consulted before the excavation began, also recommended a community services committee.
Bjorndal referenced other projects in the area, particularly from AltaGas. He said there was never any noise issues from their nearby projects.
Another frustrated resident was blunt in her synopsis of the situation.
“It almost feels like you guys don’t really care,” she said. “The fact of the matter is you guys don’t have to live out here… you’re not having to deal with this.”
While Veldman assured her and others that the port did care about their concerns, the meeting ended with a tense feeling around the municipal hall.
Veldman noted the suggestions and said the PRPA will look into ways to mitigate the noise. However, he said there was no negotiation room for the 24/7 construction, which will continue until next year.
“This is going to be a 24/7 operation and I appreciate what you’re saying, that’s just going to be the reality of the situation. Our commitment is to listen and mitigate what we can.”
By Seth Forward, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Feb 02, 2024 at 10:46