Grenville-sur-la-Rouge residents allowed home as fears of dam failure abate

The mayor of Grenville-sur-la-Rouge, Tom Arnold, says residents forced to leave their homes have been allowed to return, a week after mandatory evacuation order.

Mayor says it's a municipal decision based on Hydro-Québec's report that the structure is no longer a danger

On April 25, water levels at the dam on the Rouge River hit the extreme limit for which the structure was built, triggering a mandatory evacuation process. (CBC)

Residents in western Quebec forced to flee their homes over fears the Bell Falls dam would fail are now allowed to return, a week after the mandatory evacuation order was issued.

Hydro-Québec said Thursday the dam no longer poses a danger.

"The results of our inspections at the Bell Falls dam are positive," the public utility said on Twitter. 

"We are satisfied with the condition of our facilities. We have informed public safety and the municipality tonight and they will be able to tell people that they can go home."

Allowing the roughly 50 residents still under evacuation order to return was ultimately a municipal decision for Grenville-sur-la-Rouge, made in collaboration with provincial police.

The evacuation order was officially lifted at 8 p.m.

Road closure makes return home difficult for some

Many of those living north of the dam had already gone home, according to Mayor Tom Arnold, but those south of the dam were not allowed to drive up the closed, heavily damaged road.

Bell Falls, or Chute-Bell, is about 23 kilometres northwest of Grenville-sur-la-Rouge, which is on the north side of the Ottawa River, across from Hawkesbury, Ont.

On April 25, some 250 people total were encouraged to vacate the Grenville-sur-la-Rouge area due to the danger posed by spring flooding.

At that time, Hydro-Québec said the dam was designed to withstand a "thousand year" flood  — which means a flood that has a 0.1 per cent chance of occurring — and the utility was confident will hold even as water levels rise beyond that limit.

Despite that confidence, Hydro-Québec spokesperson Francis Labbé said that the utility could not "legally and morally guarantee" the structure would hold.

A section of Rivière-Rouge Road was still closed Thursday, but a public works team is out this morning making the necessary repairs, Arnold said.

Residents were still able to traverse the closed section by foot if the alternate routes, such as a road west of the river, would not get them home.