Edmonton

Falher family seeks help two years after fleeing farm

A family who felt they had no choice but to abandon their Falher area farm in the Peace country more than two years ago is appealing to the provincial government for help and compensation.

'It's bitter disappointment ... don't tell us you're different than the previous government, show us'

The heated tanks across from the Laliberte farm. (CBC)

A family who felt they had no choice but to abandon their Falher area farm in the Peace country more than two years ago are appealing to the provincial government for help and compensation.

Vivianne Laliberte and her husband Marcel said they experienced debilitating health problems after breathing in years of emissions from nearby heated petroleum tanks.

We were exhausted all the time, we were even having some cognitive impairment.- Vivianne Laliberte

Laliberte says they loved their farm but felt they were faced with a "life or death" situation.

"We were exhausted all the time, we were even having some cognitive impairment."

Laliberte says their health has improved "dramatically" since moving away. She and her husband say they can never move back to their former home. The couple believes the emissions have caused irreparable damage to the farm.

Vivianne Laliberte says at the time her and her husband were "exhausted all the time." (CBC)

Laliberte says when they drop in to check the condition of the house every now and then, they can't stay very long.

"We haven't been able to bring our belongings with us. When we go into that house, I don't know what it smells like, but it's awful."

Reaching out

Last year, Laliberte reached out to the NDP government hoping to get some kind of help.

In November of 2015, she met with Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd, and last month wrote a detailed letter inviting the minister to visit their farm to see the damage for herself.

"It's ten miles away from her sub-office in Falher, but there's been no follow-up."

It's ten miles away from her sub-office in  Falher , but there's been no follow-up.-  Vivianne  Laliberte

The heated tanks across from the Laliberte farm are operated by Baytex Energy of Calgary.

It's the same company that was the subject of a public inquiry by the Alberta Energy Regulator, or AER, in March of 2014.

It was called after several families in the Peace River area fled their homes because of mysterious health complaints they believe were related to emissions from the bitumen extraction process.

The inquiry confirmed long term exposure to the emissions was damaging the health of area residents.

The finding prompted the AER to order Baytex Energy to install equipment to capture odour-causing emissions.

The Energy Mnister says she is working on a response to help the Laliberte family. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

Several families who also fled their homes because of the emissions sued Baytex Energy and reached a settlement for an undisclosed amount, but the Laliberte's weren't part of that legal action.

Vivianne Laliberte believes they shouldn't have to sue if the regulator and provincial government gave approval for the system that made them sick in the first place.

"These operations had all been approved by the regulator and the government, so we're holding them responsible."

'Don't tell us you're different... show us'

After their meeting, the constituency office for the Minister of Energy encouraged her to put her concerns and requests in writing.

The Lalibertes were hoping for a quick response from the NDP government, but that hasn't happened.

"It's bitter disappointment. And that's what we asked in our letter, don't tell us you're different than the previous government, show us."

Brad Hartle, the spokesman for the Energy Minister, says in an emailed statement they're aware of Laliberte's concerns and are working on a response to her letter.

"We want to do what we can to help her," wrote Hartle. "So we are currently working with the Ministry of Environment and Parks, and the Ministry of Health, as well as the Alberta Energy Regulator to determine how we can best go about addressing Ms. Laliberte's concerns."

About the Author

Kim Trynacity is an award-winning journalist and CBC Alberta's provincial affairs reporter. You can reach Kim by email at kim.trynacity@cbc.ca or on Twitter @ledgewatcher

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