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  • Madeline Kerr

Construction causes major safety concerns in Farm Point

Residents of Farm Point are concerned for their safety after a number of individuals have had frightening incidents they say are directly related to the construction taking place on River Road.


A 63-year-old construction worker was killed near the intersection of Cora-Rose and River Roads on Sept. 11, when a dump truck backed into him while he was fueling his tractor. The incident is currently under investigation by CNESST, the governmental body responsible for ensuring workplace health and safety in Quebec.


But even before the tragedy took place, locals were raising concerns about safety along River Road as well as detours along Carman and St. Clement roads.


Samantha Biron has lived in north Chelsea for 17 years. She recently spoke with the Low Down about some of her experiences driving through the construction site, which she described as “super laissez-faire, safety-wise.”


Biron said that at one point a few weeks ago, she was attempting to leave her laneway when she was instructed to stop by a member of the construction crew. She and her partner, Andrew Yerxa, waited in their car while a dump truck backed up towards them, presumably to turn around.


“He keeps backing up, and we’re waiting and thinking, ‘Is he going to stop?’ The worker [directing traffic] is looking in the other direction, not paying attention.”


Biron said she used her horn to alert the worker, who then yelled for the dump truck driver to stop at the last second. “I didn’t get out to check, but he must have been a centimetre away from our car,” said Biron.


The incident was frightening at the time, but since the fatality on River Road two weeks ago Biron said that it has left her with nightmares. “I keep hearing the backup beep — it’s been horrible,” she said.


Frustratingly for Biron and her family, this is not the only close call they’ve experienced during the period of construction, which started in July and was halted for several days following the crew member’s death but has since resumed.


At times, Biron said, it has felt like she’s been “dodging swinging bulldozers” as she drives her daughter home from school. Once, she said a worker suddenly came out of a hole directly in front of her car, and she had to slam on her brakes to avoid hitting him. Most recently, she described a near head-on collision while ascending the hill on St. Clement Road, the result, she said, of traffic lights that were not properly installed.


Biron contacted the municipality about this latest incident and received a response from an administrative assistant in the Public Works and Infrastructure department telling her: “We are actively addressing the situation and working to ensure a safer environment for everyone,” but did not include specifics.


Sylvie D’Aoust, also a resident of Farm Point, said she has had similar concerns for weeks. She told the Low Down that she became so worried about the speed of dump trucks coming down the steep section of St. Clement Road, where school buses stop each morning to pick up the neighbourhood children, that she began filming them on her phone. She said that she started sending the municipality these videos via email every few days for two weeks — between the start of the school year and when construction temporarily stopped following the fatal incident.


Chelsea director-general Sheena Ngalle Miano confirmed with the Low Down that she received four emails from D’Aoust over the course of five days in early September. Miano said the municipality has also received emailed complaints about the same issue from three additional residents.


When asked what the municipality did in response to these complaints, Miano said: “This issue was discussed with [our interim public director] and actions were to be made [such] as calling the police so they could come more often, talk with the contractors, etc.”


In a conversation with the Low Down on Sept. 18, Chelsea Mayor Pierre Guénard acknowledged that he has been aware of some concerns, but said that he has faith in the professionals hired to complete and oversee the construction.


“I’m not questioning the work that they do,” Guénard said. He added that the work must comply with the regulations put forward by CNESST, telling the Low Down: “Residents have their opinions, but there are provincial guidelines that need to be followed that can’t be disputed.”


Councillor for Farm Point, Rita Jain, said that she has received “numerous complaints about the speed of trucks” from residents, adding: “​​I have already recommended to the administration that there be an immediate lowering of speed limits in and around the construction zone, as is customary in most construction zones.”


The work currently being done on River Road is carried out by FGK Construction based in Gatineau, which didn’t return the Low Down’s calls by publication deadlines. Often, construction companies sub-contract some of the work to other firms. The driver of the dump truck involved in the fatal incident is a Low resident; we have agreed to keep the company and driver name anonymous until the CNESST report is completed.


According to Guénard, residents can reach out to the municipality with their concerns using the email address info@chelsea.ca. He added that, if residents observe unsafe or illegal activity taking place on the road, they should contact MRC-des-Collines Police directly to report.


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